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Cook Children's Neurosciences.
Neurosciences - We do it all for kids.

Glossary of terms

Absence seizure: a generalized seizure involving a brief interruption of consciousness. The person briefly stares blankly and the eyelids may flutter. This is also called petit mal.

Acquired epileptic aphasia: Regression of language after normal language development; this condition is associated with seizures and behavioral problems.

Acupuncture: A Chinese tradition where fine needles are used to stimulate specific areas along certain meridians that balance the energy flow in that area.

Ambulatory EEG: A portable type of EEG that allows the electrical activity of the brain to be recorded over a period of several hours or several days. Electrodes are attached to the scalp and a recorder is worn on a belt around the waist. This eliminates the need to be in the hospital and the person can continue his or her daily activities.

Anoxia: A lack of oxygen.

Antibiotics: Drugs that fight infections.

Anticonvulsant: An antiepileptic drug used to treat seizures.

Antiepileptics: Medications used to prevent the spread of seizures in patients with epilepsy.

Arteriovenous malformation: A tangle of blood vessels in the brain that can bleed and commonly cause seizures.

Ataxia: Difficulty walking or balancing.

Atonic seizures: Generalized seizures causing sudden loss of muscle tone resulting in falls to the ground. Recovery is rapid, but the patient is at a risk of serious injuries to the head or other body parts.

Auras: Warnings before a seizure that the patients can recall. This is a sensation—sometimes a strange smell or taste or a twitching in one limb—that may act as a warning that a seizure is going to happen. Auras are actually simple partial seizures and may sometimes occur in isolation, without progressing to a complex partial or tonic-clonic seizure.

Automatism: Automatic or altered behavior—typically occurring during a complex seizure—lip smacking, rearranging objects, chewing or swallowing movements, fumbling with clothing, and undressing.

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Basilar migraine: A migraine associated with complicated symptoms such as slurred speech, loss of balance, or brief loss of consciousness.

Benign sleep myoclonus: A distinctive disorder of sleep in infancy characterized by rhythmic myoclonic jerks (sudden muscle contractions) that occur when the child is asleep and stop when the child is awakened. Sleep myoclonus usually disappears after a few weeks and can be confused with epilepsy.

Brain tumors: Abnormal growth or production of brain cells, neurons or supporting cells (glia).

Brand name: The name given to a drug by the company that manufactures it.

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Catamenial epilepsy: Seizures that only occur before or during menstruation or at the time of ovulation.Seizures that only occur before or during menstruation or at the time of ovulation.

Seizures that only occur before or during menstruation or at the time of ovulation.

Catamenial migraine: Increase in the frequency of migraine attacks in relation to different phases of menstruation.

Central nervous system: The portion of the vertabrate nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord.

Cerebellar atrophy: Shrinkage of the lower part of the brain called the cerebellum, which is important for the coordination of movement and balance.

Cerebral angiogram: An x-ray of the arteries and veins in the brain. For the test, a contrast dye is passed into the blood vessels through a catheter.

Childhood absence epilepsy: Age-related benign generalized epilepsy with very brief clusters of absence seizures, these seizures are also referred to a petit mal seizures.

Childhood epilepsy with occipital paroxysms: Benign epilepsy with visual auras and EEG reveals excitation in the occipital lobes. Often confused with migraines.

Clonic seizures: Epileptic seizures characterized by jerking movements that involve muscles on both sides of the body.

Complementary and alternative medicines: This is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.

Complex febrile seizure: Seizures occurring in relation to high fever, usually prolonged and may show asymmetric involvement of the body or focal features clinically. These tend to recur more often.

Compliance: Taking medication as prescribed (i.e. the correct dose at the correct time).

Computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan: A brain scan showing anatomy of the brain using x-rays.

Convulsive syncope: A brief loss of consciousness (syncope) associated with mild convulsions and stiffening.

Cortex: The outer layer of an organ or other body structure.

Cortical dysplasia: A malformed disorganization of the cerebral cortex.

Cryptogenic epilepsy: Epilepsy where the cause of the condition cannot be determined.

Cyanotic: Spells that are associated with fear, trauma, and emotional stress. A child stops breathing and turns blue and may have a brief loss of consciousness.

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Deep brain stimulation: A treatment where a probe or electrode is implanted and used to stimulate a clearly defined, abnormally discharging brain region to block the abnormal activity.

Depression: Chronic feelings of sadness, despair, and helplessness.

Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes caused by a relative or absolute deficiency of insulin.

Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI): Measures the movement of water in the brain and detects areas where the normal flow of water is disrupted. A disrupted flow of water indicates where there could be an underlying abnormality.

Disconnection: Surgical resection of neuronal pathways that connect two areas of the brain.

Doose syndrome: A rare disorder with frequent and sudden drop attacks, violent myoclonic jerks, or abrupt loss of muscular tone (i.e. astatic seizures).

Drop attacks: A sudden loss of muscle tone resulting in falls and physical injuries. The seizures are breif, generalized and are associated with both atonic or tonic seizures.

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Electrical epileptiform discharges: An abnormal excitation in the brain referred to as "epilepsy brain waves."

Electroencephalogram (EEG): Graphic representation of brain waves revealing the functional status of the brain.

Encephalitis: Inflammation of the brain tissue.

Epilepsia partialis continua: Continuous seizure activity originating from one side of the brain. Patients may be completely aware of their surroundings. This condition is commonly seen in patients with brain tumors.

Epilepsy: A neurological condition where a person has a tendency to have repeated seizures, more than two that are unprovoked.

Epileptiform discharges: Abnormal waves in an EEG in patients with epilepsy that indicate signs of excitation in the brain.

Epileptogenic: Having the ability to induce epilepsy.

Epileptologist: A neurologist who specializes in epilepsy

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Febrile convulsions: Convulsions seen with high fever.

Febrile seizures: Seizures in association with high fever.

Focal seizure: An older term for a partial seizure. A seizure coming from one discrete focus or part of the brain.

Focus: An identified area of the brain from which partial seizures arise.

Frontal lobe: The part of the brain that is involved in movement and some aspects of thought, judgment initiation, and abstract thinking.

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Gamma knife: A relatively new form of surgery that uses gamma radiation to destroy the part of the brain that the surgeon has identified as being the cause of epilepsy.

Generalized epilepsy: Epilepsy characterized by different seizure types, such as tonic-clonic, tonic, absence or myoclonic seizure. These are typically not preceded by any aura and show widespread involvement of the brain on the EEG during the seizure.

Generalized seizures: Abnormal electrical activity occurring simultaneously from both sides of the brain.

Glutamate: An excitatory neurotransmitter.

Grand mal: A sudden attack or convulsion characterized by generalized muscle spasms and loss of consciousness.

Grid: An array of multiple electrodes that is inserted after opening skull bone. It can cover a wider area of brain compared to strips.

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Hemispherectomy: Disconnects one cerebral hemisphere from the rest of the brain. It is performed only for intractable epilepsy where one side of the brain is functioning poorly.

Hemispheres: Two parts of the brain (right and left).

Hydrocephalus: An enlargement of the head caused by an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (liquid that serves as an extra cushion to protect the brain and spine from damage) in the ventricles of the brain. As a result, a person with hydrocephalus may suffer mild to moderate mental retardation.

Hyperventilation: Rapid, deep breathing; this technique may provoke epileptiform waves or seizures (especially absences seizures) during an EEG recording.

Hypothalamus: A region in the brain that controls all the glands and the autonomic nervous system.

Hypothyroidism: Insufficient production of thyroid hormone levels in the body.

Hypoxia: The prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain.

Hypsarrhythmia: A distinctive EEG pattern associated with infantile spasms.

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Ictal: The period during a seizure.

Idiopathic epilepsy: Epilepsy where the cause of the condition is not know but genetic factors are believed to be involved.

Infantile spasms: Clusters of rapid jerks followed by stiffening or jackknife movements.

Intracarotid sodium amobarbital procedure: Also called WADA test, used to localize speech and memory function prior to surgical treatment of temporal lobe seizures.

Intracranial EEG recording: EEG recording from intracranial electrodes (electrode grid/strips placed directly on the cortical surface or implanted depth electrode).

Intractable seizures: Seizures that do not respond to treatment.

Ischemia: The prolonged lack of blood supply to the brain.

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Juvenile absence epilepsy: Primarily absence seizures with onset near puberty, myoclonic and grand mal seizures are also seen.

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy: A syndrome with onset during teenage years and is characterized by absence, tonic-clonic, and myoclonic seizures.

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Ketogenic diet: A high-fat diet that is sometimes used to treat severe epilepsy in children.


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Lafora disease: A form of progressive myoclonus epilepsy with psychomotor retardation, seizures (primarily myoclonic or grand mal), and EEG shows occipital spikes. Diagnosis is made with skin biopsy and/or genetic testing.

Landau Kleffner syndrome: A rare childhood syndrome where the child has seizures and regression of language.

Lennox-Gestaut syndrome: A severe form of epilepsy that usually begins in early childhood and is characterized by frequent seizures of multiple types, mental impairment, and a particular brain wave pattern (a slow spike-and-wave pattern). The seizures are notoriously hard to treat and may lead to falls and injuries.

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A brain scan using magnetic field showing details of the structure of the brain in a three-dimensional way.

Magnetic source imaging (MSI): Superimposition of MEG data on a magnetic resonance image (MRI).

Magnetoencephalography (MEG): Noninvasive functional brain mapping that localizes electrical activity of the brain by measuring the associated magnetic fields emanating from the brain.

Medically refractory seizures: Seizures that are not controlled by medical therapy treatment alone as monotherapy or in combination.

Meningitis: Inflammation of the coverings of the brain (meninges).

Mesial temporal sclerosis: Subtle scar seen in the temporal lobes in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy due to neuronal loss.

Monotherapy: The use of one drug only in the treatment of any medical illness.

Multiple subpial transections: This procedure is a kind of epilepsy surgery where small cuts are made into the brain's cerebral cortex. This helps to reduce or eliminate seizures arising from important functional areas of the brain where removal of tissue in not possible.

Myoclonic seizures: Generalized seizures with brief jerks of a part of the whole body.

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Neurological conditions: Medical conditions involving the nervous system.

Neurology: The medical science that deals with the nervous system and disorders affecting it.

Neuropsychiatrists: Physicians who specialize in neurological conditions that are producing psychiatric symptoms.

Neuropsychologists: Physicians who specialize in the relationship between the brain and how individuals think and behave.

Neuroradiologists: Specialists who use imaging devices and substances to study the brain.

Neurosurgery: Surgery that is carried out for the treatment of conditions of the nervous system.

Neurosurgeons: Surgeons who carry out surgery for the treatment of conditions of the nervous system.

Neurotransmitters: these are small molecular-weight compounds that convey messages across a synapse.

Nonepileptic seizures (NES): Seizures that are not caused by epilepsy.

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Occipital lobe: The part of the brain that is involved in visual perception.

Ohtahara's syndrome: A neurological disorder that affects newborns, usually within the first 3 months of life (most often within the first 10 days) in the form of epileptic seizures. Infants have primarily tonic seizures, but my also experience partial seizures, and occasionally, myoclonic seizures. Ohtahara syndrome is most commonly caused by metabolic disorders or structural damage in the brain, although the cause or causes for many cases cannot be determined. The EEG shows typical changes called "Burst suppression" pattern.

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Pallid syncope: Often precipitated by trauma, the child becomes limp and extremely pale with very brief loss of consciousness.

Panic attack: A sudden onset of panic with no apparent cause.

Paresthesias: A sensation of prickling, tingling, or creeping on the skin.

Parietal lobe: The part of the brain that is involved in perceiving sensations.

Paraxysmal: A sudden outburst or eruption.

Partial epilepsy: Epilepsy originating from a part of the cortex.

Partial seizures: Seizures where the abnormal electrical activity begins in one part of the brain.

Petit mal: See absence seizures.

Photic stimulation: Stimulation of the brain by flashing light or alternating patterns of light and dark.

Photosensitive epilepsy: A form of epilepsy where seizures are triggered by flickering or flashing light at particular frequencies.

Photosensitivity: When seizures are triggered by lights flashing or flickering at particular frequencies and, sometimes, by certain geometric shapes or patterns.

Positron emission tomography (PET): A 3-dimensional brain scan that gives information about the function and the structure of the brain. It is a nuclear medicine test in which tissue function can be imaged. Damaged tissues have reduced metabolic activity; therefore, gamma radiation from these areas is reduced or absent.

Posttraumatic epilepsy: Seizures resulting from head trauma.

Progressive myoclonic epilepsy: A neurological condition characterized by myoclonic and grand mal seizures, as well as, developmental delays. It can occur during infancy.

Psychosis: A mental disorder in which delusions and hallucinations are combined.

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Reflex epilepsies: Epilepsies that are triggered by specific stimuli.

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Seizure: An abnormal clinical behavior as a result of excessive excitation of brain cells.

Seizure focus: Where the seizure is originating; also called the "seizure foci."

Seizure threshold: A person's resistance to seizures that can be inherited. Patients with a low seizure threshold have a higher propensity for seizures.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Medications used to treat depression, anxiety or other psychiatric conditions. They slow down the ability of nerve cells to absorb serotonin.

Simple partial seizure: A partial seizure where the person remains fully conscious but experiences unusual sensations such as strange tastes or smells, feelings of fear or déjà vu, or involuntary twitching of limbs.

Spinal bifida: A congenital defect in the spinal column. There is an absence of vertebral arches and coverings or the whole spinal cord may be protruding.

Status epilepticus: Seizures continuing for prolonged time, usually more than 30 minutes, without returning to baseline.

Symptomatic epilepsy: Epilepsy where the cause of the condition is known.

Syncopal episodes: Brief loss of consciousness due to decreased blood supply to the brain.

Syndrome: A combination of signs and/or symptoms occurring together indicating a particular disorder.

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Temporal lobe epilepsy: Epilepsy where the seizures originate in the temporal lobe of the brain. The seizures are usually complex partial seizures.

Temporal lobe: the part of the brain that is involved in speech, language, memory, and the perception of smell and taste.

Temporal lobectomy: A procedure to remove part of the brain that is involved in speech, language, memory, and perception of smell and taste.

Todd's paresis: Paralysis of temporary duration that occurs after a seizure.

Tomography: The technique of using rotating x-rays to capture an image at a particular depth in the body, bringing those structures into sharp focus while blurring structures at other depths.

Tonic seizures: Generalized seizures where a person's body becomes stiff and he or she may fall backward. The seizure usually lasts less than one minute and recovery is rapid.

Tonic-clonic seizure: This is a generalized seizure, also called convulsion or grand mal.

Toxicity: Adverse side effects of a drug on a patient.

Tuberous sclerosis: A neurological condition associated with seizures, mental retardation, and skin lesions. Multiple organs such as skin, heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes can be involved.

Tubers: Abnormal disorganized large neuron cells in the cortex. Also seen in tuberous sclerosi.

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Vagal nerve stimulator: A small generator implanted in a person's chest. The generator stimulates the vagus nerve that may prevent the abnormal brain activity that gives rise to a seizure.

Vasovagal attacks: A temporary vascular reaction associated with rapid fall in heart rate and blood pressure.

Ventricles: Hollow cavities in the brain filled with cerebrospinal fluid.

Video EEG: A test involving simultaneous EEG and video recording.

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West syndrome: A syndrome characterized by infantile spasms, mental retardation, and a specific EEG pattern (hypsarrhythmia).

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