This is part of a month-long series that my teen daughter and I are writing about her life and learning to live with epilepsy. To start at the beginning, click here.
When Beth is feeling healthy, she is happy, very funny, and always smiling and singing. And I know she's feeling really great when she starts being a bit sassy and talks about ruling the world some day. :)
Photo taken by Emily Vetne
When she's not feeling healthy, it could be the medication side effects - which I could write a book about - or sleep deprivation or seizure activity breaking through her meds. She has two types of seizures that we've identified so far - tonic-clonic and simple partial seizures - but there are many more types of seizures.
Febrile seizures are very common in infants and young children. Febrile seizures are caused by a high fever and rarely result in an epilepsy diagnosis. If a child seems prone to having seizures with fevers, doctors may put her on epilepsy medications but the vast majority of children will outgrow them before the age of five.
Absence seizures are characterized by a short period of staring, usually lasting only 10 to 20 seconds. They used to be called petit mal seizures but that term is not used anymore. They're quick, painless, and often go undiagnosed. During the period of staring, the child is simply unaware of what's going on around them. I've had friends say that they only suspected absence seizures because their children came home from school confused about what happened in class. "I don't know why Miriam thinks there's homework because I didn't hear the teacher say that." "She didn't explain this very well" or "The teacher keeps skipping steps when she explains how to do math problems." There are many other reasons for these kind of complaints but absence seizures could be one of them.
Tonic-clonic seizures are what used to be known as grand mal seizures and what usually comes to mind when people think of seizures. This is the first type of seizure Beth had at age five. Tonic-clonic seizures are characterized by stiffening muscles, loss of consciousness, and muscle spasms. They typically last from 1-3 minutes and upon awakening, usually cause a lot of confusion, crying, extreme fatigue, and even depression. It can take a few hours to feel normal again and the fatigue can last for a couple of days. Tonic-clonic seizures can be scary to watch but the person experiencing the seizure is unconscious and doesn't remember the seizure. We are very, very fortunate because Beth's tonic-clonic seizures are very mild compared to most people's and unless you know what to watch for, it can look like she's just fainted.
Simple partial seizures have many different presentations. They can cause muscle stiffening or jerking, weakness, a tingling sensation, or even cause a person to experience sensory changes in the way things look, touch, or smell. During a simple partial seizure, the person is wide awake and can tell you what they're experiencing. Beth's symptoms of these seizures include weakness on the right side of her body and/or muscle spasms.
Complex partial seizures start off with automatisms, which are involuntary movements such as lip smacking, picking at clothing or just fumbling around. Some people even walk around dazed for a few moments. When you have this type of seizure, you appear to be awake but you are not aware of your surroundings and often have no idea that the seizure happened.
If you suspect that someone you know may be having any type of seizure, please take them to a doctor and have them checked out. Beth and I will talk about diagnosis and testing later this week. The tests are painless and the vast majority of seizures can be controlled with medication. As scary as the testing or diagnosis may seem, controlling the seizures is very important to brain health and will lead to a much healthier and happier life.
*If you'd like to read all of our 31 Days posts about living with epilepsy, click on the button on the sidebar or start here. And if you're wondering what the heck is going on and who Beth is, click here. :)