The brain contains millions of nerve cells called neurons. These cells are constantly communicating with each other by sending and receiving chemicals called neurotransmitters. When a neurotransmitter is released from a neuron, it crosses a gap called a synapse and binds to a receptor on another neuron. The receptor opens and positive particles enter the cell. This activates sodium channels on the neuron to open, allowing more positive particles into the cell. When enough positive particles are in the cell, the neuron fires a signal. Normally, neurons fire signals up to 80 times a second. In patients with epilepsy, that rate can increase to up to 500 times a second, often resulting in an epileptic seizure. Epilepsy is a seizure disorder in which there is a sudden, temporary change in how the brain functions. It is not known what causes the neurons to fire at this rate. However, medications called antiepileptic drugs, or AEDs, may be used to reduce the amount of signals fired. There are many types of antiepileptic drugs and each work by targeting specific events involved in neuron communication. The most commonly used antiepileptic drug targets sodium channels on a neuron. By binding to the sodium channel in its inactive form, the drug prevents the sodium channel from opening and allowing positive particles to enter the cell. As a result, less signals are fired. As there are many types of epilepsy, it is important to diagnose the specific type of epilepsy so that appropriate drug therapy can be prescribed. While there is no known cure for epilepsy, AEDs can help control seizures.
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