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There are many causes of epilepsy, which may vary with the age at which the seizures begin. This chapter will not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of all the causes of epilepsy. It will cover three main areas:
a basic explanation of the cause of seizures in general;
some specific causes of fits (seizures);
some provoking factors which may set off seizures in epileptics.
As a generalisation, it can be said that an epileptic fit occurs when, due to a sudden unusual release of energy (electrical activity) in the brain, its normal working is disturbed. The brain then fairly rapidly corrects itself and everything soon returns to normal.
From an explanatory point of view, although it may not be strictly medically acceptable, it is useful to divide epilepsy into two types:
primary epilepsy – idiopathic epilepsy
secondary epilepsy
In primary epilepsy, there may be an abnormality in exactly the same place in the brain as someone with secondary epilepsy, in as much that their fits might be identical but, on examination of the brain with today’s techniques, it is not possible to find an abnormality of brain tissue.
For many years this type of epilepsy has been called idiopathic epilepsy, which means that the cause is not understood. There are those who do not like the term ‘idiopathic’ epilepsy, as they argue that there must be a cause; it is just that we don’t know what it is at present. It is probable that in idiopathic epilepsy there are abnormalities of chemicals in the cells of the area of brain tissue which is electrically abnormal. These chemical abnormalities are such that from time to time epileptic discharges may be produced. The exact nature of this chemical abnormality has yet to be understood.
Understanding this chemical abnormality is very important for two reasons:
Firstly, it will provide a much better understanding of the nature of epilepsy.
Secondly, it may allow the production of drugs(anticonvulsants, anti-epileptic drugs) specifically aimed at correcting the chemical abnormality.

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