Category: Brain

Epilepsy – A Growing Condition

brain electricty

Epilepsy is a broad-term neurological condition that causes seizures. It affects people of all ages, genders, races, and status.

  • Epilepsy affects 65 million people globally — 3.4 million are in the US.
  • 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy during their lifetime in the US.
  • There are 150,000 new cases of epilepsy in the US every year.
  • More people now live with epilepsy than ever before.

Types of Epilepsy

There are several types of epilepsy that a person can suffer from and the type of epilepsy can change over time. It’s important to remember that all forms of epilepsy are seizures but not all seizures are epileptic. In 2017, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) changed the name and categorization of seizures so you may see the same seizure as different names. Epilepsy can be divided into two categories- generalized and focal – and each has their own breakdowns.  

Generalized –

This type of seizure affects both of the left and right sides of the brain at the same time.

Tonic-Clonic: Once called “grand mal” these are what are often depicted in Hollywood. This may cause you to lose control of your body. You may cry out, seize up, spasm, and lose consciousness. If the seizure lasts for more than three minutes, call 911, as this can lead to breathing problems and increase the risk of biting the tongue or cheek.

Tonic: These seizures that cause the arms, legs, and body to tense are often less than 20 seconds long. They usually occur during sleep but can cause a person to fall if they are standing. This is common in Lennox-Gastaut, a syndrome of epilepsy.

Clonic: These can last several minutes and are when the muscles spasms causing the face, neck, and arms to jerk rhythmically.

Myoclonic: Almost as if receiving a shock, the muscles will jerk suddenly during this type of seizure.  

Atonic: Instead of tensing up, the muscles go limp in this type of seizure. You may drop things or fall during these episodes. Though these are often short – 15 seconds – a person may have multiple in a row. This is often seen in people with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.

Absence seizures: Sometimes referred to as “petit mal”. During this type of seizure, you may stare blankly and become disconnected from the world around you. These last only moments and it’s common to not remember having one. This is found often in children younger than 14 years old.

This is a fascinating article about a young boy who suffers from epilepsy and his family’s journey of managing it through diet after medications failed to work. He has had epilepsy since a young age and it has changed through his time with it. His twin sister also suffers from epilepsy but with more success with conventional methods, showing that each person’s condition and needs are very unique

Focal –

This was called partial seizures and is localized in just one area of one hemisphere.

Simple focal seizures: This can affect your senses. You may smell or taste things and you may have twitching in your limbs. You may feel hot, cold, dizzy, or other sensations but you are typically aware and likely to remain conscious.

Complex focal seizures: You might lose consciousness but seem awake. This focuses more on the emotion and memory parts of your brain and can cause you to cry, laugh, or simple physical motions like lip smacking. It can take several minutes to come out of an episode.

Secondary generalized seizures: This seizure starts in one part of the brain and then spreads to both sides.

Epilepsy goes beyond just the types, different groups of factors that play a role in the condition can be specified even more as a syndrome as part of the diagnosis.

When to call 911

Not every seizure is an emergency so it’s important to distinguish when to call for help especially since they are not so uncommon. 1 in 10 people have seizures so one day you may be in a position help someone during theirs.

Call 911 if:

  • The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
  • It is their first seizure
  • There is a second seizure in close succession to the first
  • They have trouble breathing or waking when the seizure is over
  • The person gets hurt during the seizure or it happens in water
  • They are pregnant or has a medical condition like diabetes or heart disease

For most seizures, it is helpful to:

  • Check for a medical bracelet or other information
  • Keep the environment and others around them calm
  • Comfort and speak to them in a normal calming voice
  • Stay with them until the seizure is over and they are fully conscious. Keep them in a safe place to sit and tell them what happened.
  • Offer to call for a taxi or a person to see them home safely

Tonic-Clonic seizures may need a little extra care because of the nature of the seizure. They may cry out, jerk, or fall. Because of this, it is best to ease them to the floor and turn them to one side. Place something soft and flat under their head like a folded sweater and remove anything dangerous away. Remove any glasses and jewelry that may restrict breathing. Remember to time the seizure and if it lasts longer than 5 minutes to call 911. It is unnecessary to hold a person down during their seizure, just make sure the area around them is clear, and do not put anything into their mouth. CPR is usually unnecessary as the person will breathe normally again once the seizure is over. Food and water is not recommended until they are fully awake and conscious.

The Red Cross has an app that offers step-by-step first aid and advice including information about epilepsy and seizures. You can find more information about it and their other apps here.

Alzheimer’s Disease Facts

Alzheimer's as a puzzle with pieces missing

This September is the 7th World Alzheimer’s Month, a campaign created every September to raise international awareness. A goal for the campaign is to increase an understanding of dementia globally and fight stigmas that may surround it by the unaware and misinformed.

The difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not one in the same. Dementia is used to refer to a group of symptoms that affect memory while Alzheimer’s is a disease that progressively hinders cognitive function and memory. Most simply put, dementia is an umbrella term and Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia.

The Facts

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia both in the US and globally.

Alzheimer’s Disease in the US

  • An estimated 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease
  • By 2050, that number is estimated to grow to almost 14 million people. By 2025, every state is expected to see at least a 14% increase.
  • Roughly two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women
  • Up to 5% are younger than 65 and have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease
  • Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds in the U.S.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only one in the top 10 that cannot be prevented, slowed, or cured.
  • 1 in 10 Americans that are 65 or older has Alzheimer’s disease and 1 in 3 seniors die from some type of dementia
  • Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined
  • From 2000 to 2014, there was an 89% increase in Alzheimer’s related deaths
  • Around 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for dementia patients. In 2017, it is estimated over 18.2 billion hours of care was given and is valued at over $230 billion.
  • In 2017, the disease cost the nation $259 billion. 2018’s cost of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to the country is an estimated $277 billion and by 2050 it could be almost $1.1 trillion.
  • Up to $7.9 trillion in medical costs could be saved with an early and accurate diagnosis.  

Alzheimer’s Disease GloballyAn older lady out on her own

  • Over 44 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
  • Every 3 seconds there is a new case of dementia
  • Only 1 in 4 people with Alzheimer’s disease are actually diagnosed
  • Alzheimer’s and dementia are most prevalent in Western Europe (with North America a close second) and least found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The top cause for disability in later life is Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
  • The total cost of Alzheimer’s and dementia worldwide is estimated to be over $605 billion — which equals 1% of the world’s GDP–, with some estimates as high as $808 billion.
  • If it were a country, it would be the 18th largest economy and if it were a company, it would be the largest in the world, even beating Apple and Google,  by annual revenue

Early Signs

Early detection can help with treatment and care, so contact a doctor if you think you may be developing Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

  • Memory loss
  • Trouble planning or solving problems
  • Issues completing familiar tasks
  • Challenges with remembering times, dates, and seasons
  • Vision problems and judging spacial relations
  • Difficulty with conversations or words when speaking or writing
  • Misplacing items and unable to retrace steps
  • Issues with making decisions and an increase of poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from activities
  • Mood changes

While some of these may seem like normal aging-related problems, the frequency and severity of an issue should be considered. Sometimes forgetting may not be an alarming factor, but if it’s happening often or disrupting daily life it may be a sign to seek help.

Stroke—You Have To Act FAST

Learning the signs and symptoms of a stroke and knowing how to act FAST can be life-saving. This month is marked by National Stroke Awareness month.

Here are the numbers:

  • About 800,000 people have a new or recurrent stroke every year.
  • That comes down to a person having a stroke about every 40 seconds.
  • It’s the 5th leading cause of death in the US.
  • Every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke.
  • Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented.
  • It is the leading cause of adult disability in the US.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is either caused by a weakened vein leaking blood or a blocked artery. In either case, blood – and therefore oxygen – are not getting to the brain. These are called hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes, respectively. A temporary block of blood flow is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) but is also referred to as a mini-stroke. That should not dampen the potential severity of what it is, attention should be sought immediately as a full stroke is likely to occur soon.

What is FAST?

FAST is a simple acronym for signs to be on the look-out for if you suspect a person is having a stroke.

Face drooping – Ask the person to smile and observe if the face droops.

Arms weak – See if the person is able to lift both arms overhead. Does an arm drift down or do they have trouble raising one?

Speech difficulty- Have the person repeat a person phrase. Pay attention to see if they slur or sound odd. They may have some confusion and trouble understanding you.

Time to call 9-1-1 (or your local emergency number) – Call 911 immediately if you observe any of these signs.

Other symptoms include:

  • trouble walking
  • a sudden and severe headache that may be joined with vomiting or dizziness
  • trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Why is it that so important?

In the case of many medical emergencies, stroke included, time is of the essence. Once a person starts having a stroke, it only takes a matter of minutes before brain damage can start to occur. Depending on where and the severity of the stroke, the type of damage can vary but often temporary or permanent disability can be expected. Two-thirds of survivors have some type of disability. These can include:

  • A difficulty with talking and swallowing: sometimes people can experience problems with swallowing, eating, and language due to trouble controlling muscles in your throat and nose. This can include difficulty communicating by talking, reading, and writing. Working with a therapist may help.
  • New sensations may occur in parts of the body affected by the stroke. This could be pain, tingling, or numbness. New sensitivities like to temperature changes could develop.
  • After a stroke, you may lose control of parts of your body or be paralyzed on one side like a side of your face or a leg. Physical therapy may help to return to activities like dressing, walking, and eating.
  • Some memory loss is common as well as changes to your cognitive ability like reasoning and judgment.
  • Emotional problems or depression could manifest after experiencing a stroke.
  • A person may experience behavior changes and their ability for self-care. They may become withdrawn and need help with chores, grooming, and dressing.

The success of treating these complications varies on the person and their situation.

Risk factors

Below are some risk factors that increase a person’s chance of having a stroke. While some of these are unavoidable, working on the ones that are changeable can help lower your risk level and possibly increase your quality of life.

  • Age – being over the age of 55 increases your risk of a stroke
  • Sex – men are more likely than women to have a stroke but women are older when they have one and are more likely to die of a stroke.
  • Race – African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Hormones – estrogen-based therapies,  use of birth control, and the higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy and after childbirth increase the risk of stroke.
  • Physical inactivity
  • Heavy drinking
  • Obesity
  • Illicit drugs (cocaine, methamphetamines, etc)
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease (abnormal heartbeat, heart failure, defects, and infection)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • A family history of stroke, TIA, or heart attack

 

Implementing simple lifestyle changes can help lower your risk but if you are concerned about your risk, speak to a healthcare professional. If you or someone know has been affected by stroke, therapy may be able to help increase one’s quality of life. Remember, if you suspect someone is having a stroke, act FAST. 

Connecting Your Heart With Your Brain

heart health = brain healthYou know what they say, ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’. Ok, it might not actually be a saying but maybe it should be. There is increasing information that steps to prevent heart disease may also prevent or slow dementia.

A rising public epidemic is railing brain health. In a person’s 20s, the brain naturally starts showing signs of cognitive decline and an estimated 3 out of 5 Americans will, in their lifetime, have some type of brain disease. However, the rate of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke cases seems to be increasing and by 2030, these conditions are expected to exceed 1 trillion dollars.

There have been a number of studies that show that factors that affect heart and vessel health also affect the brain. Considering the brain uses 20% of the body’s oxygen and is surrounded by hundreds of vessels, it makes sense that poor cardiovascular health would, in turn, affect the brain’s health.

There are overlapping risk factors for both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and dementia. A few include type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and especially high blood pressure. These can have some effect on the vessels in the brain, cause the brain to shrink at a faster rate, cause changes to white matter, or lead to a stroke. In fact, according to  Ralph Sacco, M.D., chief of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and past president of the American Heart Association (also the first neurologist to be president of the AHA), high blood pressure is the “strongest predictor of brain health.” Some research indicates that the presence of these risk factors in middle age may have a greater effect on brain health than if they were in old age, however, specifics as to why are yet to be determined.

The American Heart Association has developed a system called Life’s Simple 7 as a means to keep a person’s health in check.

  • Blood Pressure Management
  • Cholesterol Control
  • Blood Sugar Regulation
  • Being Active
  • Eating Balanced
  • Weight Loss
  • Quit Smoking

Some studies have followed participants following this guideline for many years (30 years in some cases) to see how their health progressed. They awarded how well a person abided by each guideline with points between 0-2 and researchers found that every point missed seemed to correspond with about a year’s worth of age-related brain shrinkage. Similarly, other researchers found that with each increase of a point, the participant’s risk for heart failure was lowered by 23%. The research, however, does have some limitations and requires more data.

The earlier a person takes their health seriously the better, but starting now is better than never starting at all. Take steps and actions to take control of your health. Assess your health and speak with a physician if you have any questions or concerns. Simple actions can go a long way such as taking daily walks, incorporating more vegetables, or cutting out something high in sugar. A healthy heart can lead to a healthy brain, which could lead to a multitude of other positive life and body changes. Take charge of your health today!