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What is Generalized Epilepsy?

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  • Written By: D. Waldman
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 25 May 2020
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Generalized epilepsy is a form of epilepsy that involves seizures which affect both hemispheres of the brain, often resulting in loss of consciousness and memory and temporarily impaired motor skills. Also known as primary generalized epilepsy, this disorder often manifests itself during early childhood. The condition is classified as primary due to the fact that this type of epilepsy is a solitary disorder as opposed to being a symptom or side effect of another condition or medication.

Epilepsy in general is caused by an electrical short circuit in the brain. While there is always some level of electrical activity taking place in the brain, a disorder such as generalized epilepsy can cause what can be likened to a power surge. As the electrical impulses in the brain spike, the body responds with either one of two types of seizures.

Seizures are classified as either grand mal or petit mal, with grand mal seizures being the most severe. People suffering from generalized epilepsy will typically experience both types of seizures. A grand mal seizure involves stiffening of the limbs, loss of consciousness, and sudden jerking movements that may last up to two minutes. Petit mal seizures often last a matter of seconds and may appear as nothing more than an eye roll or a nervous twitch.

Unlike some other forms of epilepsy, generalized epilepsy almost always begins during childhood. Seizures at this age are often triggered by sudden movements or states of heightened energy levels caused by emotions such as panic or excitement. Once a child has had a seizure, a physician will generally draw information from family history, physical exams and results from various tests that can help measure the electrical activity in the brain and spot abnormalities. The most common tests used for this purpose are electroencephalographs (EEGs) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Once all of this data has been compiled, an informed diagnosis of generalized epilepsy can be given.

Many children diagnosed with generalized epilepsy will grow out of the condition during their late teens or early adult years, never again showing any abnormal brain activity or experiencing any further seizures. Others, however, may have to deal with the effects of epilepsy throughout their entire lives. There are several treatment options available to help regulate generalized epilepsy and reduce or prevent the occurrence of any seizure activity. The most common form of epilepsy treatment the use of various prescription drugs.

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