Epilepsy can be a complex disorder.

Glossary

The medical terms used to describe the various aspects of epilepsy can be confusing. Use this simple glossary for definitions of some basic terms found on this Web site and elsewhere.


A

Absence Seizure (also called Petit Mal)
A sudden—but fleeting—loss of awareness, sometimes accompanied by staring, often without any prior warning or aftereffect.
Adjunctive Therapy
If the first drug treatment the healthcare professional prescribes is not effective enough alone, the healthcare professional may prescribe Adjunctive Therapy—another drug that is taken along with the first.
AED
Antiepileptic drug.
Affective
Having to do with feelings and emotional responses, including fear, foreboding, depression, happiness, and anger.
Amnesia, Anterograde
After a seizure, difficulty in remembering events that happened just before the seizure.
Amnesia, Retrograde
After a seizure, difficulty in remembering things one used to know.
Antiepileptic Drug (also called Anticonvulsant)
A drug used to bring seizures under control.
Asymmetrical
When movements during a seizure are noticeably different on each of the two sides of the body.
Atonic Seizure (also called Drop Attack, Astatic Seizure, or Akinetic Seizure)
A brief seizure during which muscles suddenly lose their tone and go limp without warning. Can occur as part of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Auditory
Having to do with hearing, especially buzzing, drumming, droning, or other sounds caused by a seizure.
Aura
A warning—sometimes experienced as a feeling of strangeness—that sometimes comes just before a seizure. An aura is itself a small seizure that affects the senses. It may, but doesn’t always, become a larger seizure that others can observe.
Automatism
A set of repetitive, involuntary motions that can happen as part of a seizure. Often the motions are not remembered afterward. An automatism can look like a voluntary movement, and may resemble a movement made just before the seizure began.
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B

Bilateral (also called Generalized)
Affecting both sides of the brain or body.
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C

Catamenial
Used to describe seizures that always or regularly occur in some specific phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Clonic Seizure (also known as Rhythmic Myoclonus)
An epileptic seizure in which certain muscle groups jerk repetitively.
Cluster
A grouping of seizures within a single day or over a few days, especially when the grouping adds up to more seizures than usually experienced.
Convulsion
A seizure involving excessive and unusual muscle contractions, usually affecting both sides of the body.
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D

Dacrystic seizures
Used to describe crying or sobbing associated with a seizure.
Déjà-vu
An uncanny feeling of familiarity with something unfamiliar.
Drop Attack (see Atonic Seizure)
Duration
The time from the start of a seizure (including the aura, if one occurs) until the end of the seizure (not including any postseizure feeling or states).
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E

Electroencephalograph (EEG)
A recording of the electrical activity of the brain, used to identify some of the characteristics of epilepsy, such as spikes and waves.
Epileptic Seizure
An event that takes place when nerve cells fire much more rapidly and with less control than normal. Seizures can affect movements, the senses, concentration, the ability to communicate—even consciousness.
Epileptologist
A neurologist who specializes in treating patients with epilepsy.
Experiential
Used to describe out-of-context emotions, memories, or perceptions, including complex and vivid hallucinations.
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F

First-Line Therapy
The first drug treatment prescribed by a healthcare professional. If it is not effective enough alone, the healthcare professional may prescribe Adjunctive Therapy—another drug taken along with the first.
Focal Seizure (also known as a Partial Seizure)
Focal seizures affect just one part of the brain. Partial seizures can interfere with awareness and the ability to communicate; they can also make the body move involuntarily. Focal seizures are the most common type of seizure. A focal seizure can stimulate emotions and the senses, make the body move, interfere with perceptions, generate perceptions, and produce vivid, extended hallucinations that can be seen and/or heard by the person having the seizure.
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G

Gelastic seizures
Used to describe laughter or giggling associated with a seizure.
Generalized Seizure (also known as a Bilateral Seizure)
Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain at the same time, from the time the seizure begins. Consciousness is lost—often for a short time, but can last several minutes. Absence Seizures, Atonic Seizures, Myoclonic Seizures, and Tonic-Clonic Seizures are all generalized seizures.
Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure (also known as a Bilateral Tonic-Clonic Seizure or Convulsions; formerly known as a Grand Mal Seizure)
During a tonic-clonic seizure, the body stiffens (the tonic phase) and the limbs and face begin to jolt and shake (the clonic phase). During the tonic phase, breathing may slow down or even pause; in a typical tonic-clonic seizure, when the convulsive movements begin, breathing returns. The jerking and jolting of the clonic phase often lasts less than a minute.
Gestural
Used to describe groping movements of the hand associated with a seizure.
Gustatory
Used to describe sensations of taste—bitter, tart, salty, sweet, metallic—associated with a seizure.
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H

Hallucinatory
Used to describe vivid, complex impressions involving some or all of the senses but associated with a seizure rather than with external events.
Hyperkinetic
Used to describe rapid movements associated with a seizure.
Hypokinetic
Used to describe a shutdown of ongoing movements associated with a seizure.
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I

Ictus
A sudden neurological incident such as an epileptic seizure.
Impaired Cognition
Used to describe difficulty in thought, perception, attention, emotion, memory, or speech because of a seizure.
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K

Kinetic
Relating to motion.
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L

Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome
One of the most severe and difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome accounts for up to 10% of all cases of childhood epilepsy. (For more, see our Web page About Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.)
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M

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
A magnetic scanning technique used to create a detailed image of the brain.
Mimetic seizure
Used to describe a facial expression that seems to be associated with an emotion—often fear—but that is actually caused by a seizure.
Mnemonic
Used to describe distortions involving memory—such as Déjà-vu and jamais-vu—due to a seizure.
Monotherapy
Treatment for epilepsy using a single drug instead of a combination of drugs.
Motor
Involving muscles and movement.
Myoclonic Seizure
During a myoclonic seizure, the muscles contract rapidly for a brief time. Sudden jerking motions occur on both sides of the body or sometimes in one foot or arm.
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N

Neurologist
A healthcare professional who is an expert at diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the central nervous system.
Neuron
A nerve cell.
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O

Olfactory
Used to describe the sensation of an odor, usually unpleasant, associated with a seizure but not with an external event.
Oroalimentary
Used to describe movements of the mouth, tongue, throat, and jaw associated with a seizure.
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P

Partial Seizure (also known as a Focal Seizure)
Partial seizures affect just one part of the brain. Partial seizures can interfere with awareness and the ability to communicate; they can also make the body move in ways that can’t be controlled. Partial seizures are the most common type of seizure. A partial seizure can stimulate emotions and the senses, make the body move, interfere with perceptions, generate perceptions, and produce vivid, extended hallucinations that can be seen and/or heard by the person having the seizure.
Polytherapy
Treatment of a single condition with more than one drug.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
A scan that uses a radioactive substance to find the part of the brain where seizures originate.
Postictal
The period of time just after a seizure.
Prodrome
A change of feeling or behavior that signals the onset of a seizure but is not a part of it.
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R

Reactive
Used to describe a seizure that happens in part because of or along with an illness, lack of sleep, stress, or stimulus.
Respiratory
Having to do with breathing.
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S

Sensory
Used to describe a seizure that produces perceptions triggered by the seizure rather than by an external event.
Severity
Assessment of a seizure based on how long it lasts, what movements are involved, how it affects thinking, feeling, and perceptions, how often seizures occur, and extent of injury and other consequences.
Side Effects
An unwanted effect of medication such as dizziness or trouble concentrating.
Spike
Electrical activity in a group of neurons, sometimes producing a distinctive electroencephalograph (EEG) reading for patients with epilepsy.
Spontaneous
Used to describe a seizure that is not due to the environment.
State Dependent
Used to describe seizures that always or regularly occur in some specific stage of sleep or wakefulness.
Status Epilepticus
Most seizures are brief. But when seizures go on for too long, or come in clusters, a person may be at risk for a condition called status epilepticus—an ongoing state of seizure. Status epilepticus requires emergency treatment.
Synchronous
Movements that happen at the same time or at the same rate.
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T

Temporal Lobe
A part of the brain often involved with epileptic seizures, the temporal lobe plays a vital role in memory and speech.
Therapeutic Range
A guide used by healthcare professionals to help determine the right dosages for antiepileptic drugs.
Titration
The process of bringing the dosage of a medication up to the level at which it has the desired effect.
Tonic Seizure
Increased muscle contractions lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Tonic-Clonic Seizure
During a tonic-clonic seizure, the body stiffens (the tonic phase) and the limbs and face begin to jolt and shake (the clonic phase). During the tonic phase, breathing may slow down or even pause; in a typical tonic-clonic seizure, when the convulsive movements begin, breathing returns. The jerking and jolting of the clonic phase often lasts less than a minute.
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U

Unilateral
Used to describe a seizure in which one side of the body is involved.
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V

Verbal
Used to describe a seizure in which speech is involved.
Visual
Used to describe a seizure in which visual phenomena, such as flickering lights, spots, or patterns, are involved.
Vocal
Used to describe a seizure in which noises such as growling, grunting, or shouting are involved.
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For more definitions, try one of these sources:


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About TOPAMAX®

TOPAMAX® is approved as initial monotherapy in patients 2 years of age and older with partial-onset or primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Safety and effectiveness in patients who were converted to monotherapy from a previous regimen of other anticonvulsant drugs have not been established in controlled trials.

TOPAMAX® is approved as add-on therapy for patients 2 years of age and older with primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures, partial-onset seizures, or seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Important Safety Information

Warnings and Precautions

TOPAMAX® may cause eye problems. Serious eye problems include: sudden decrease in vision with or without eye pain and redness; blockage of fluid in the eye causing increased pressure in the eye (secondary angle closure glaucoma). These eye problems can lead to permanent loss of vision if not treated. You should call your healthcare professional right away if you have any new eye symptoms.

TOPAMAX® may cause decreased sweating and increased body temperature (fever). People, especially children, should be watched for signs of decreased sweating and fever, especially in hot temperatures. Some people may need to be hospitalized for this condition. Call your healthcare provider right away if you have a high or persistent fever or decreased sweating.

TOPAMAX® can increase the level of acid in your blood (metabolic acidosis). If left untreated, metabolic acidosis can cause brittle or soft bones (osteoporosis, osteomalacia, osteopenia), kidney stones, can slow the rate of growth in children, and may possibly harm your baby if you are pregnant. Metabolic acidosis can happen with or without symptoms. Sometimes people with metabolic acidosis will: feel tired, not feel hungry (loss of appetite), feel changes in heartbeat, or have trouble thinking clearly. Your healthcare provider should do a blood test to measure the level of acid in your blood before and during your treatment with TOPAMAX®. If you are pregnant, you should talk to your healthcare provider about whether you have metabolic acidosis.

Like other antiepileptic drugs, TOPAMAX® may cause suicidal thoughts or actions in a very small number of people, about 1 in 500. Pay attention to any changes and call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms, especially if they are new, worse, or worry you: thoughts about suicide or dying, attempts to commit suicide, new or worse depression, new or worse anxiety, feeling agitated or restless, panic attacks, trouble sleeping (insomnia), new or worse irritability, acting aggressive, being angry or violent, acting on dangerous impulses, an extreme increase in activity and talking (mania), or other unusual changes in behavior or mood.

TOPAMAX® may affect how you think, and cause confusion, problems with concentration, attention, memory, or speech, depression or mood problems, tiredness, and sleepiness.

Do not stop taking TOPAMAX® without first talking to your doctor. Stopping TOPAMAX® suddenly can cause serious problems.

If you take TOPAMAX® during pregnancy, your baby has a higher risk for birth defects called cleft lip and cleft palate. These defects can begin early in pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant. There may be other medicines to treat your condition that have a lower chance of birth defects. All women of childbearing age should talk to their healthcare providers about using other possible treatments instead of TOPAMAX®. If the decision is made to use TOPAMAX®, you should use effective birth control (contraception) unless you are planning to become pregnant. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you become pregnant while taking TOPAMAX®. You and your healthcare provider should decide if you will continue to take TOPAMAX® while you are pregnant. Metabolic acidosis may have harmful effects on your baby. Talk to your healthcare provider if TOPAMAX® has caused metabolic acidosis during your pregnancy. If you become pregnant while taking TOPAMAX®, talk to your healthcare provider about registering with the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry. You can enroll in this registry by calling 1-888-233-2334. The purpose of this registry is to collect information about the safety of antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy.

TOPAMAX® may cause high blood ammonia levels. High ammonia in the blood can affect your mental activities, slow your alertness, make you feel tired, or cause vomiting.

Taking TOPAMAX® when you are also taking valproic acid can cause a drop in body temperature (hypothermia) to less than 95ºF, feeling tired, confusion, or coma.

Adverse Reactions

As monotherapy, the most common side effects of TOPAMAX® (in the 400 mg/day group and at a higher rate, ≥ 5%, than the 50 mg/day group) in adults were tingling in arms and legs, weight decrease, loss of appetite, sleepiness, and difficulty with memory; and in children, fever, weight decrease, mood problems, cognitive problems, infection, flushing, and tingling in arms and legs.

In combination with other antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), the most common side effects of TOPAMAX® in adults (200 to 400 mg/day) were sleepiness, dizziness, loss of muscle coordination, speech disorders and related problems, psychomotor slowing, abnormal vision, difficulty with memory, tingling in arms and legs, and double vision; and in children (5 to 9 mg/kg/day), fatigue, sleepiness, loss of appetite, nervousness, difficulty with concentration/attention, difficulty with memory, aggressive reaction, and weight decrease.

Tell your doctor about other medications that you are taking. Report any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.

These are not all the possible side effects of TOPAMAX®. For more information, ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist.

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch, or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Please see full US Prescribing Information and Medication Guide.

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This site was last modified on: Feb 13 2012 at 11:05:00 EST