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nervous system guide

Brainstorms (Epilepsy)

Within the brain and the outer spinal cord, millions of nerve cells lie close to one another. Even though they have almost no insulation separating them, they usually function perfectly, relaying messages and forming memory connections. Like a perfectly functioning computer chip, each electrical impulse maintains its distinct path.

But not every electrical signal follows its programmed path. Imagine a single uncontrolled burst of impulses, sweeping across the brain like a static shock. As these wild signals spread, unpredictable reactions occur. You can see the difference between normal brain waves and erratic ones in the graphic below. During a seizure the victim may become disoriented for a second, or lose consciousness for even longer ... sometimes the muscles receive nonsense messages and contract violently in a reaction called a convulsion.

Attention loss and convulsions can be a symptom of a condition called epilepsy. It can be the result of head injury, infection, high temperature, tumors, stroke, or drug abuse, or it can occur without any of these causes. Between brainstorms, the person with epilepsy is completely normal; the condition is not directly related to any other disability or mental condition.

In many cases epileptic seizures can be controlled by drug therapy. In a few serious cases, surgery has been used to isolate the source of the erratic messages.

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