Nerve cells function by discharging small electrical waves. Those discharges arising from the brain can be measured by the 'electroen-cephalograph' (E.E.G.).
If the brain cells suddenly produce a burst of larger electrical waves than normal, then an epileptic fit may result. Patients whose brains have a tendency to do this repeatedly are said to suffer from epilepsy. This disease is often hereditary; or it may develop from an area of damaged tissue. These two main types of epilepsy are called 'idiopathic' and 'symptomatic'.
Idiopathic epilepsy, the fits start in childhood, adolescence (especially around puberty), and sometimes early adult life; they take the form of either generalised convulsions, or petit mal attacks.
Symptomatic epilepsy, the fits are one of the symptoms of brain damage, or disease. As methods of neurological investigation have improved, more and more cases once considered 'idiopathic' have been transferred into this group. The suspicion that epileptic attacks are symptomatic arises when (a) the attacks start later in life, usually over the age of 30; (b) they are focal; (c) there are abnormal signs in between attacks, or shortly after an attack.
Once a fit has started, nothing will work quickly enough to stop it. The immediate treatment is to prevent the patient injuring himself and to ensure that his breathing is not obstructed. A firm object should be placed between the teeth, and the patient should be removed from anything that may harm him/her during the fit, such as fire, heights, traffic, water, walls, and articles of furniture.
Their clothing should be loosened, the tongue must not be able to fall into the back of his/her mouth, and their head must not be able to fall into a pillow or cushion to cause suffocation. On recovery the patient must not be left alone in case post-epileptic automatism develops.