Epilepsy... what's that?
Updated: Sep 10, 2018
"I always thought a seizure was when you swallowed your tongue", she said to me for the 3rd time barely able to lean against the bar. "No," I replied politely with a sober smile... "It's not."
In the book Navigating Life with Epilepsy by David C. Spencer, MD, FAAN, Dr. Spencer breaks down what a seizure is for us in simpler terms so that we don’t have to go through life thinking a seizure is when you swallow your tongue. Thank you Dr. Spencer!
“A seizure is an event that begins in the brain. The brain cells, or neurons, normally communicate with each other in a very controlled way using small chemical and electrical signals… Under normal conditions, the activity of these neurons is precise and controlled, allowing each area to carry out its specific function efficiently. During a seizure this tightly controlled process is disrupted. Some think of a seizure as an electrical “storm” in the brain. The neurons involved in a seizure fire rapidly and may recruit their neighbors to do the same-- so the activity is excessive and hypersynchronous (cells that don’t normally fire together are all firing at the same time). Two key points from the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) Dr. Spencer references are:
It is a chronic, or relatively long-lasting, condition
It involves recurrent seizures
Let's dig a little deeper shall we...?
If you're like me, never wanting to miss out on anything (#FOMO anyone...?) then you were probably bouncing around on your nurse's bed during testing wondering what the heck your brain looks like on that EEG or MRI thing. So let's get into that beautiful brain of ours.
But first let's define what an EEG is... EEG stands for electroencephalogram. An EEG is a device used to test the electrical activity in your brain. They test the brain wave patterns through the electrodes that get attached to your head!
If you've ever had an EEG or two... or 100 you probably know how uncomfortable those electrodes can be, especially because to attach the electrodes they have to put a sticky material on them so they really stay. Especially if you're wearing the EEG for many days in a row, not fun. But thankfully it all comes off with a little (a lot of) shampoo!
Here is a picture of what an EEG will look like!
What's an MRI?
MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. You will get an MRI to check if you have suffered from any brain damage. This type of test uses powerful magnetic radio waves to record information about your brain. When doing an MRI, they will look for a scar or lesion.
In our brain we have A LOT going on...
-Our brains have two hemisphere (aka two halves)... each divided into four paired lobes
neurons- brain cells
the cerebral cortex- portion of the brain that makes you unique- language, thought, imagination, consciousness, and the ability to think. Located on the external surface of the brain
temporal lobe (green)- located in the bottom section of our brains, location of the primary auditory cortex: helps us interpret sounds and languages we hear, location of the hippocampus: helps us form memories
frontal lobe (blue)- located in the front of our brains, reasoning, motor skills, cognition, expressive language, location of the motor cortex: located in the back of the frontal lobe, receives information to follow through with certain body movements.
parietal lobe (yellow)- located in the middle of our brains, processing sensory information (touch, pain), location of the somatosensory cortex: necessary for translating body senses.
occipital lobe (red)- located in the back of our brains, translates visual stimuli and information, location of primary visual cortex: receives and translates information from the retinas in our eyes
The brain stem- composed of the midbrain, pons, and the medulla
Midbrain- relays auditory/ visual information, eye movement, red nucleus & substantia nigra control body movement. Darkly pigmented substantia nigra have lots and lots of dopamine.
Pons- connects medulla to the cerebellum
Medulla- located directly above the spinal cord in the lower part of the brain stem, controls heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
Cerebellum-only 10% of your brain size behind the brain stem, on top of the pons is the "little brain" coordinating your movements, speech, and motor learning. This is not the location where your motor actions originate, but it's where they're modified and refined making your movements accurate and coordinated. For example posture, balance, coordination, and voluntary movements.
Thalamus- Located above the brainstem, processes and transmits movement & sensory information and then passes that information along to the cerebral cortex, cerebral cortex passes info to thalamus which sends that info to other systems.
Hypothalamus- a grouping of nuclei along the base of our brain near the pituitary gland where it can control hormones, responsible for hunger, thirst, emotions, regulating body temperature and circadian rhythms
The Limbic System- four main regions include 1) hippocampus, 2) amygdala, 3) parts of the limbic cortex, 4) septal area. All of these area create connections in the brain.
Basal Ganglia- group of large nuclei partially surrounding the thalamus, key component in controlling movement, have connections with red nucleus and substantia nigra
Our brains are working REALLY hard!
Hopefully with this information you'll have learned more about how the brain works so that you can be more knowledgeable on what's going on within our heads whether you have epilepsy or know someone who does. After reading this you'll see just how complex our brains are...but this is only the tip of the iceberg!