Infantile spasms and other epilepsies
Epilepsy is the physical manifestation of an underlying brain dysfunction. As a consequence, it comes in many forms. Infantile spasms are a particularly harmful form of epilepsy, which can result in mental and physical retardation unless brought under control rapidly.
Epilepsy is best regarded as the symptoms of some underlying brain dysfunction, which causes gross misbehaviour of brain cells, either at a specific place (focal epilepsy), or more widely (generalised epilepsy). This misbehaviour causes physical consequences, like the loss of consciousness, or loss of muscle control.
Types of epilepsy
Classifying epilepsies is a difficult task. It is useful for neurologists to group epilepsies into different types, but the reality is more complex. Each epilepsy is a malfunction of a particular area of the brain and is different for each child. As a result, there is not a set of well defined epilepsies, but rather a landscape in which the various peaks represent neurologically identified types like infantile spasms while individual symptoms merge into one another as imperceptibly as the hills in a landscape.
These are a particularly harmful form of epilepsy, which can result in mental and physical retardation unless brought under control rapidly. The ketogenic diet appears to be a valuable form of treatment for infantile spasms.
Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is the most distressing of childhood epilepsies. The children suffer frequent fits of many different types, and experience gradual mental deterioration. The ketogenic diet appears to be a valuable form of treatment for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
(prototype) Anti-epileptic drugs
Drugs are the usual first line of treatment for epilepsy. These drugs necessarily affect the operation of the brain, and can often have undesirable side effects. At a miniumum anti epileptic drugs can make a person drowsy, spacy, irritable or nauseated; at worst they can seriously affect mental capabilites and become addictive. The main aims of drug therapy are, therefore, to reduce fits while minimising the side effects of the drugs. The doctor tries to reach a balance between the need to control fits and the undesirable health problems that arise from the drug itself.
The internet has a large amount of information about epilepsy - which means that it can be difficult to find what you need. This page provides a route into Aladdin's cave. It provides links to the different sorts of information available through the internet and, in the case of the world wide web, to the best directories of links on epilepsy.
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(update 2.1: 8 November 2002)
(issue 2: 22 March 1998)