Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Epilepsy Anatomy

To better understand epilepsy, it helps to understand the anatomy of the brain.

The brain is well protected by:

  • The scalp
  • The skull
  • The dura
    • A tough 3-layer sheath that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
    • Layers include the dura mater (strongest layer), arachnoid mater (middle layer), and pia mater (closest to the brain)

The brain is a complicated structure containing many parts. These include:
  • The cerebrum:
    • Made up of two cerebral hemispheres that are connected in the middle
    • It is the largest part of the brain
    • Each area of the cerebrum performs an important function, such as language or movement
    • Higher thought (cognition) comes from the frontal cortex (front portion of the cerebrum)
    • Outside of the cerebrum are blood vessels
    • There are fluid-filled cavities and channels inside the brain
  • The cerebellum:
    • Located in the lower, back part of the skull
    • Controls movement and coordination
  • The brainstem and pituitary gland:
    • Responsible for involuntary functions such as breathing, body temperature, and blood pressure regulation
    • Pituitary gland is the "master gland" that controls other endocrine glands in the body, such as the thyroid and adrenal glands
    • Pineal gland
  • The cranial nerves:
    • Twelve large nerves exit the bottom of the brain to supply function to the senses such as hearing, vision, and taste
  • The cerebral blood vessels:
    • A complicated system that supplies oxygenated blood and nutrients to the brain

The blood supply to the brain is divided into two main parts:
  • Anterior cerebral circulation:
    • The front of the brain is supplied by the paired carotid arteries in the neck.
  • Posterior cerebral circulation:
    • The back portion of the brain is supplied by the paired vertebral arteries in the spine.

Anatomy examples:
  • Carotid artery branches shown on arteriogram
  • Cerebral arteries viewed in cross-section through middle of brain
  • Cerebral arteries viewed from bottom of brain
  • Cerebral arteries on enhanced CT scan
  • Cerebral arteries on arteriogram

Last Updated: Dec 10, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Epilepsy References
  1. Alsaadi TM, Marquez AV. Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Sep 1;72(5):849-56. [16156345]
  2. Camfield P, Camfield C. Epileptic syndromes in childhood: clinical features, outcomes, and treatment. Epilepsia. 2002;43 Suppl 3:27-32. [12060004]
  3. Kinsman SL, Vining EP, Quaskey SA, Mellits D, Freeman JM. Efficacy of the ketogenic diet for intractable seizure disorders: review of 58 cases. Epilepsia. 1992 Nov-Dec;33(6):1132-6. [1464275]
  4. Pearl PL, Bennett HD, Khademian Z. Seizures and metabolic disease. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2005 Mar;5(2):127-33. [15743550]
  5. Posner EB, Mohamed K, Marson AG. A systematic review of treatment of typical absence seizures in children and adolescents with ethosuximide, sodium valproate or lamotrigine. Seizure. 2005 Mar;14(2):117-22. [15694565]
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