Absence Seizure — A type of generalized seizure usually seen in children,
characterized by staring, accompanied by a 3-per-second spike-and-wave pattern on
the electroencephalograph. These seizures respond well to medication, and most children
Adjunctive Therapy — Taken with other medications.
Anticonvulsant (antiepileptic drug) — A medicine used to control both
convulsive and nonconvulsive seizures.
Arteriovenous Malformation — A tangle of arteries and veins which can
cause headaches, seizures, or bleeding in the brain. Often requires surgery.
Automatisms — Involuntary movements that accompany seizures, such as
chewing, fumbling at a button, or pulling on clothes. Can occur in generalized or
Ataxia — A type of clumsiness, often the result of too much medication.
Aura — A warning that a seizure may begin, often described as a “funny
feeling.” An aura is actually a small seizure that may develop into a larger
seizure or disappear.
Benign Rolandic Epilepsy — Accounts for almost 25% of seizures appearing
in children from age 5 to 14. Not always treated with medication, because seizures
typically outgrown by adolescence.
Catamenial — Related to a woman’s monthly period.
Cerebrovascular — Relates to the blood supply in the brain, involving
the cerebrum and blood vessels.
Clonic Seizure — An epileptic seizure characterized by jerking.
Corpus Callosum — The white matter that connects the 2 hemispheres
of the brain. A corpus callosotomy is an operation in which a part or all of this
structure is cut, disconnecting the 2 hemispheres. This surgery is typically reserved
for patients with intractable generalized epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Complex Partial— Seizure that alters consciousness causing confusion.
Complex Partial With Secondary Generalization — Seizure that starts
as complex partial but becomes a generalized seizure affecting both sides of the
Computerized Axial Tomography — A CAT or CT scan. This type of x-ray
uses a computer to assemble multiple images, producing a detailed picture of the
skull and brain.
Comprehensive Epilepsy Center — A medical facility consisting of an
epilepsy clinic and epilepsy monitoring unit staffed by neurologists, neurosurgeons,
neuroradiologists, neuropsychologists, technologists, a clinical coordinator, and
a social worker specially trained to help people with epilepsy. An epilepsy center
also employs sophisticated technology such as magnetic resonance imaging, single
photon emission computerized tomography, and positron emission tomography scans.
Convulsion — A seizure characterized by stiffening of the body and
jerking, excess salivation (foaming at the mouth), and loss of control of urine,
followed by a period of confusion.
Déjà Vu — A psychic seizure that produces a false sense
of familiarity, as if life is repeating itself.
Depth Electrode — A special electrode placed inside the brain through
a small hole in the skull to locate a seizure focus.
Double Blind — A clinical trial in which medication is coded so that
neither the neurologist nor the patient knows whether placebo or active medication
is being used.
Drop Attack — Often seen in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a type of seizure
that causes the child to suddenly fall. May cause injuries of the face and head.
Electrode — A small metal contact attached to a wire designed to record
brain waves from the scalp or inside the brain.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) — A tracing of brain waves, used to search
for epileptic spikes and abnormal slowing.
Encephalitis — An inflammation in the brain caused by infection. May
be accompanied by seizures and result in epilepsy later in life.
Epilepsia Partialis Continua — A rare seizure type that consists of
repeated jerking lasting long periods of time. Often seen in Rasmussen’s encephalitis.
Epileptic Focus — The site in the brain where a seizure begins.
Epileptologist — A neurologist with special training who treats patients
Febrile Seizure — A seizure caused by a high fever in children under
the age of 5. Most of these children do not develop epilepsy.
Fit — A seizure.
Gastroenteritis — Swelling of the lining of the stomach and intestines.
Generalized Seizure — A seizure that affects both hemispheres of the
Grand Mal Seizure — A convulsion.
Grid — An array of electrodes placed on the brain to locate a seizure
focus or map speech.
Half-Life — The time required for half the amount of drug to disappear
from the body.
Health Management Organization — Members of this type of health plan
pay a fixed monthly fee, regardless of their health care needs. They must use certain
neurologists and hospitals. Expensive tests and services can be more difficult to
Hemispherectomy — A type of epilepsy surgery in which one of the hemispheres
of the brain is removed or disconnected. Can be extremely helpful in controlling
seizures in appropriate patients.
Hypoglycemia — An abnormal decrease of sugar in the blood.
Hypsarrhythmia — Specific patterns of irregular high-amplitude show
waves and spikes on the electroencephalogram seen in West’s syndrome.
Indemnity Insurance — Allows purchasers to choose their own neurologist.
Pays a percentage of the total bill after a deductible.
Infantile Spasms — A type of seizure that occurs in infants, characterized
by frequent jerks of the body. Part of West’s syndrome.
Intractable — Refers to seizures that cannot be stopped by medication.
Intravenous — Medications or fluids administered through a needle inside
Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy — A seizure syndrome that usually appears
There are currently no glossary items for the letter “K”.
Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome — A type of epilepsy occurring in infancy and
early childhood characterized by frequent seizures and multiple seizure types. These
children have mental retardation and slow spike-and-wave complexes on their electroencephalograms.
This type of epilepsy is extremely difficult to control.
Liver Function Test Abnormality — An elevation of liver enzymes, which
can be caused by antiepileptic medications. This is a common finding on blood tests
and not a cause for concern unless the level is very high.
Low White Count — An abnormality detected on a complete blood count
(CBC), often a side effect of antiepileptic medications. Rarely of clinical significance.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) — A scan that uses an enormous magnet
instead of x-rays to form an extremely detailed image of the brain.
Magnetic Resonance Angiography — A magnetic scan of the blood vessels
of the brain. Does not require any contrast material (dye).
Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy — A method of measuring brain metabolism
using a magnetic scanner to identify a seizure focus.
Magnetoencephalography — An experimental device that measures minute
magnetic fields produced by ionic currents in the brain; may help localize an epileptic
Medicaid — A state-administered program of federal financial assistance
primarily for families with children, the aged, blind, and disabled.
Medicare — A federally funded health insurance program primarily for
people age 65 and older and the disabled.
Meningitis — An inflammation of the covering of the brain.
Menopause — The time when menstruation naturally stops in women. Usually
occurs around age 50.
Monotherapy — Single-drug treatment for epilepsy.
Myoclonus — A sudden muscle jerk of the body. Can be seen in a number
of different epilepsy syndromes.
Neurologist — A doctor who is skilled at diagnosing and treating diseases
related to the nervous system.
Neuron — A nerve cell. Billions of neurons interact to make up a working
brain. Epileptic discharges are produced when groups of neurons misfire.
Neurotransmitter — Chemicals that carry impulses from one neuron to
Nystagmus — Bouncing eye movements, often the result of medication
Open Label — A clinical trial in which the name and dosage of the investigational
drug are known to the investigator and patient.
Partial Seizure — A seizure that begins in a specific location in the
brain, such as the temporal lobe.
Partial Complex Seizure — A seizure that begins in a specific location
in the brain and alters consciousness, causing confusion.
Partial Simple Seizure — See Simple Partial
Petit Mal Seizure — Same as absence seizure.
Placebo — An inactive substance sometimes used as a basis for comparison
when new drugs are tested.
Polytherapy — Treatment with multiple drugs.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) — A scan that uses an injection
or radioactive tracer to measure brain metabolism in an effort to locate the seizure
focus. Often part of the evaluation before seizure surgery.
Postictal — The period immediately after a seizure.
Preferred Provider Organization — An insurance plan that allows members
to use specified neurologists in a discounted fee or service arrangement.
Protocol — The specific manner in which a clinical trial is conducted.
Pseudoseizure — Clinically resembles an epileptic seizure but without
epileptic discharges from the brain. Also called psychogenic or nonepileptic seizure,
most often caused by severe psychosocial stress.
There are currently no glossary items for the letter “Q”.
Rasmussen’s Encephalitis — A type of chronic, progressive brain
inflammation that produces uncontrolled seizures. May be successfully treated by
Respiratory — Relating to the process of breathing.
Simple Partial — A seizure that that begins in a specific location
in the brain but does not alter consciousness. May produce abnormal sensations,
such as an unpleasant smell, or a motor movement, such as jerking of the arm.
Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT) — A scan that
uses an injection of a radioactive tracer to measure blood flow in the brain. Typically
2 SPECT scans are done, one during a seizure and one in between seizures. SPECT
scans can help identify a seizure focus in preparation for surgery.
Spike — A characteristic finding on the electroencephalograph in patients
with epilepsy. A spike is the result of an abnormal synchronized electrical discharge
in a population of neurons.
Status Epilepticus — A condition of recurrent seizures on the same
day or prolonged seizures requiring immediate medical attention.
Synapse — The place at which a nerve impulse passes from one neuron
Telemetry — Continuous monitoring of the electroencephalogram, often
Temporal Lobe — A part of the brain important in memory and controlling
speech. Often the site of the epileptic focus.
Therapeutic Range — A guide, and only a guide, for antiepileptic drug
levels. Patients often require more or less medication to control their seizures
than suggested by the therapeutic range listed on the laboratory report.
Todd’s Paralysis — A temporary weakness of an arm, leg, or other
body part after a seizure.
Tonic-clonic Seizure — An epileptic seizure characterized by a fall
to the ground (tonic phase) followed by jerking movements (clonic phase).
Toxicity — An undesirable effect of medication such as drowsiness,
dizziness, trouble walking, or difficulty concentrating.
Tuberous Sclerosis — An inherited disorder, typically with mental retardation,
abnormalities of the brain, skin, and other organs, and seizures. Half these patients
will have infantile spasms.
There are currently no glossary items for the letter “U”.
Vagal Stimulator — A device designed to control seizures, similar to
a cardiac pacemaker, but with the electrode attached to the vagus nerve in the neck.
Wada Test — Not an abbreviation, but named after its developer, Dr.
Jun Wada. This is an injection into the carotid artery of amobarbital, used to determine
the location of the brain’s speech center and to test memory prior to epilepsy
West’s Syndrome — A type of epilepsy in infants characterized
by abrupt spasms of the body that usually occur in clusters, mental retardation,
and the recognizable pattern on the electroencephalograph called hypsarrhythmia.
There are currently no glossary items for the letter “X”.
There are currently no glossary items for the letter “Y”.
There are currently no glossary items for the letter “Z”.
*Source: Wilner, Andrew N. Epilepsy: 199 Answers: A Neurologist Responds To His
Patients. New York: Demos Medical Publishing; 2003.