15 Jul21

Types of Epilepsy and their Causes

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Epilepsy is a complex and diverse spectrum of disorders. While most people have heard of tonic-clonic and absence seizures, and associate epileptic seizures with loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions, there are numerous types of epilepsy – each one caused by various factors, expressed in different ways.

Here are a few lesser-known types of epilepsy:


Catamenial Epilepsy

Catamenial Epilepsy is gender-specific. It is a type of epilepsy in which the seizure frequency intensifies during certain phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This is because, at different stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle, there are varying levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body. With more estrogen, the brain cells become more excitable, meaning they are likelier to discharge electricity, resulting in a seizure. Women with Catamenial Epilepsy have a significant increase in the number of seizures coinciding with their period.

Gelastic Epilepsy

The word ‘Gelastic’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Gelos,’ translating to ‘laugh.’ People living with Gelastic Epilepsy often have brief, frequent and mechanical bursts of laughter that are described as being ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’. The laughter comes on with no trigger and is completely out of place. In other words, there is nothing funny to bring on the onset of laughter. Sometimes, facial flushing, dilated pupils and repetitive complex behaviors may accompany the laughter. Gelastic Epilepsy is extremely rare, diagnosed in only 1 out of every 1000 epilepsy cases, and is more commonly seen in males than in females. A common cause for this type of epilepsy is a small tumor in the hypothalamus.

Infantile Spasms

Also called ‘West Syndrome,’ these seizures are predominantly seen in babies. The seizures or spasms make the muscles in the arms and legs stiff, the body may arch, and the baby’s head will bend forward, like how one would react when startled. These seizures only last for a second or two but come on one after the other in a cluster, lasting around a minute or two, making them difficult to notice. This form of epilepsy occurs in 1 out of 2000 children and begins between 2-12 months, peaking between 4-8 months of age. Infantile spasms usually stop by the time a child is around 3-4 years old and many babies with the disorder develop other kinds of epilepsy as they grow up.

Photosensitive Epilepsy

People with photosensitive epilepsy have reflex seizures triggered by visual stimuli. These could be flashing lights or bright, bold visual patterns (stripes/checks), stimulating images that take up your complete field of vision such as being very close to a screen, strobe lights or theatre lights, flashing lights on police cars, ambulances or fire trucks, sunlight through blinds, the reflection of leaves on water, the sun shining through trees, camera flashes, fireworks, and the like. About 1 in 100 people in the US have epilepsy, out of which 3-5% of them have photosensitive epilepsy. Children are more likely to have the condition, with a majority being girls. When triggered, people with photosensitive epilepsy have a ‘generalized tonic-clonic seizure.’ Seizures become less frequent with age and rarely persist after the age of 20.

Benign Rolandic Epilepsy with Centro-Temporal Spikes

One of the most common types of childhood epilepsy, it is referred to as ‘benign’ because most children outgrow the condition by the time they hit puberty. These seizures usually begin when the child is between 3 to 12 years old and typically occur during the nighttime. It is thought to be a genetic disorder and symptom severity varies, but typically includes twitching, stiffness of the face, and tingling of the face and tongue. Sleep deprivation is said to be a common trigger and some of the features of this type of epilepsy include headaches and migraines. Some individuals experience learning difficulty and behavioral problems during the period that they have these seizures. You may find these books to explain epilepsy to children helpful if you have a child living with the condition.

As you can see, epilepsy isn’t one disease or one condition. There are several kinds of epilepsy with different patterns and symptoms. Understanding what kind of epilepsy you have will help ensure the right medication and treatment. You will also be able to lead a more normal life once you know your triggers and what to expect. If you found this post helpful, comment below and we will list a few more types of epilepsy on our epilepsy blog. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.