This booklet provides an overview of seizures, triggers, diagnosis, treatment and living with epilepsy.
Getting a diagnosis of epilepsy can be overwhelming. With so much information to take in, it can be hard to know where to start.
This is our guide to help you think about your next steps, whether that’s learning about epilepsy, finding tips to help you manage your condition or coming to terms with the diagnosis.
Is this guide for me?
This guide is aimed at adults with epilepsy. We have separate information for:
Topics in this guide
Find out about epilepsy
Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain, causing seizures. It’s more common than you might think: around 630,000 people in the UK have epilepsy. That’s around 1 in every 100 people.
- Anyone can have a one-off seizure, but this doesn’t always mean they have epilepsy. When someone has epilepsy, it means they have a tendency to have epileptic seizures
- An epileptic seizure happens when there’s a sudden burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain
- There are lots of different types of seizures, each with different symptoms
- People can develop epilepsy for many reasons, including brain damage, infection and genetics, but often doctors can’t find a cause
- Medicine is the main treatment, but there are other possible treatments if medicine doesn’t work
Watch our video for a brief introduction to epilepsy or visit our webpage – What is epilepsy?
What to expect from diagnosis and treatment
If you are still going through the process of getting a diagnosis, our section on diagnosing epilepsy explains how it’s diagnosed and some of the tests involved.
How will my epilepsy be treated?
The main treatment for epilepsy is medicine to stop your seizures, or reduce how often they happen and how severe they are. You may hear these medicines called anti-seizure medications (ASMs) or the older term anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). To keep things simple, we call them epilepsy medicines.
There are lots of different epilepsy medicines. Your specialist should explain which medicines may be suitable for you and tell you about any possible side effects.
Find out more about treatment with epilepsy medicines:
- Taking epilepsy medicine
- Epilepsy medicines available in the UK
- Side effects and interactions
- Switching between different versions of epilepsy medicines
Medicine helps most people with epilepsy have fewer seizures or stop having seizures completely. Around half of people with epilepsy find that their seizures stop completely with the first medicine they try. But some people need to try a few medicines before they find one that works well for them. And some people need to take two or more epilepsy medicines together.
Around a third of people with epilepsy have seizures that don’t stop with epilepsy medicine. If medicine does not work well for you, your specialist might suggest some other treatment options. These include:
Managing your epilepsy
When you are first diagnosed with epilepsy, you might feel helpless or like things are out of your control. But you have a very important role in managing your epilepsy and making decisions about your treatment.
Here are some things you can do to help you manage your epilepsy.
Your doctor or epilepsy specialist nurse should give you the information you need to make informed choices about your treatment. This should be tailored to your needs. So if you want information about something to do with your epilepsy, no matter how big or small, ask them.
We have a list of suggested questions to ask your doctor that includes tips to help you get the most out of appointments.
Take your medicine regularly
For your medicine to work well, it’s important to have a steady supply of medicine in your body. Missing a dose can increase your risk of having a seizure. Your doctor should give you instructions on how much of your medicine to take and when to take it.
If you have any problems with taking your medicine, like side effects or difficulty swallowing tablets, talk to your specialist or epilepsy specialist nurse. They should be able to suggest changes to help. Our page on taking your epilepsy medicine has some suggestions to help make taking your medicine easier.
Know your rights
There are guidelines about the standard of treatment and care you should get for your epilepsy. This includes how quickly you should get to see a specialist, and how often you should have a review of your treatment.
We explain more on our page about getting the right treatment and care. These pages also give tips on what to do if you’re not happy with your treatment and care.
Ask for a care plan
Doctors should give you a care plan with details of the care and support they’ve agreed with you. We have a template care plan you could ask them to use.
Download a copy or order a free copy below.
Know your triggers
You might find that some things make you more likely to have seizures. These are often called triggers. Possible triggers include stress, not sleeping well and drinking too much alcohol. A very small number of people have seizures triggered by lights that flash or flicker.
Avoiding your triggers can help you to have fewer seizures. But not everyone is able to identify a trigger for their seizures.
Keep a seizure diary
Keeping a seizure diary can help you and anyone involved in your epilepsy care see if your medicine is working, and if there is a pattern to your seizures. It can also help you to find out if anything triggers your seizures. Some people use an app on their phone. If you prefer a paper diary you can download ours or order a free copy below.
Our support for you
We’re here to support you, through all stages of your epilepsy journey. Here are some of the services we offer:
How will epilepsy affect my life?
Having epilepsy affects everyone in different ways, but there are some common concerns that we know affect a lot of people when they are first diagnosed.
If you have a driving licence, you’ll need to stop driving and let the driving agency know that you’ve been diagnosed with epilepsy. We know that for a lot of people, having to stop driving is one of the hardest parts of getting an epilepsy diagnosis.
- People with epilepsy can get their driving licence back once they meet the medical standards for driving
- For most people this means being seizure free for 12 months
- There are different rules for sleep seizures and seizures that don’t affect your awareness
- If you’ve had to give up your driving licence, you can get free or discounted bus and train travel
- You might be entitled to help with work-related travel costs from Access to Work
Find out more:
Work and money
You might be worried about what impact your epilepsy will have on your job, or that it will stop you finding work. It’s important to know that employers have a legal duty to treat you fairly and not discriminate against you because of your epilepsy.
If your employer needs to learn more about epilepsy and how to support you, ask them to take a look at our employer toolkit.
We know that having epilepsy can bring financial worries, especially if you can’t work or need extra care and support. You might be able to claim benefits to help. Visit our benefits page to find out what benefits are available, and where to get support with claiming them.
Safety and independence
Seizures can put you at risk of accidents and injury, so it’s a good idea to think about safety, especially until your seizures are well controlled. This doesn’t always mean you have to stop doing the things you enjoy or give up your independence. Often, there are simple safety steps you can take to make things safer.
Our safety advice includes some practical tips to make activities safer, and guidance on how to weigh up risks while still having a good quality of life. We also have information about how family members can help keep you safe during a seizure.
Your specialist should give you individual advice about the risks involved with your epilepsy. One important risk they should discuss with you is the small risk of dying from epilepsy, including sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Our page on epilepsy-related deaths and SUDEP talks about the risks and how to reduce them.
Keeping you safe during your seizures
You might want to make sure that family, friends and work colleagues know how to keep you safe if you have a seizure. We have lots of information to help, including free posters and leaflets and an online course.
If you have children, you might be unsure about whether to tell them about your epilepsy, and how to explain it. We think it’s important for children to know what epilepsy is and that it’s nothing to be afraid of. When you are ready to tell them, our children’s books can help you with that conversation.
We also have advice on looking after a baby or young child when you have epilepsy.
If you want to have children in the future, having epilepsy should not stop you. Our guide to having a baby covers planning a baby, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Coming to terms with your epilepsy
It can take time to adjust to a diagnosis of epilepsy. This might be true for you, and people who care about you like family and friends.
You might feel lots of different emotions. These are just a few that people have told us about:
- Shock and disbelief – some people find the diagnosis hard to accept and question whether it’s right
- Relief – some people feel relieved to have an explanation for their symptoms, especially if they’ve been happening for a long time
- Anxiety – about having seizures, taking medicine, or how epilepsy will affect their life
All these emotions, and many others, are completely normal. Acknowledging the emotions you are going through, and talking to people about them, can help. You could talk to people close to you, or join one of our talk and support groups to meet other people with epilepsy. We have a befriending service that provides somebody to listen, if you are going through a difficult time. Our helpline is also here to offer advice and answer your questions about epilepsy.
Many people find that with time and support, they learn to manage their epilepsy and live well with the condition. Our online course, Epilepsy and your wellbeing, looks at ways to manage your epilepsy and improve your general wellbeing. This can help you to feel good and function well.
What can I do if I’m struggling to come to terms with my diagnosis?
For some people, it can take longer to come to terms with the diagnosis, and feelings of anxiety and low mood might not go away. If you find this is the case for you, talk to your GP, specialist or epilepsy specialist nurse, as they will be able to suggest ways to help. You can also visit our pages on anxiety and depression for more information and sources of support.
Hear from others
We asked people with epilepsy about their experience of living with the condition, and what advice they would give to someone who has just been diagnosed.
Here’s what they told us:
“Rest when you need to, cry when you need to, laugh when you can – a lot! I’ve also been blessed with a brilliant neurologist, who has found the right balance of medication to get my seizures under control.”
“Don’t let it rule or ruin your life, hard to do at first, as I know only too well. But talking it through with family and friends, can and will help you to come to terms with it.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions – no matter how trivial or daft you feel it is ask it anyway! If you don’t understand get them to explain it until you do.”
“Know the importance of the condition and taking your meds, but don’t let it define you. Know the precautions and changes you need to take, but don’t let it consume you or worry about it. Just be aware and mindful. It’s been 17 years since diagnosis and I still have to work at finding the balance but it’s not a burden.”
“Live your life as if your next seizure could be tomorrow, but never live your life as if that seizure should mean you have to wrap yourself in cotton wool.
If you can live with little adjustments, medical ID, free or discounted travel instead of a driving licence, showers instead of baths… then no matter when your next seizure is, you’ll live a full life that’s always going to be your normal life no matter if you’re seizure free or not.”
Here are some ways you can get involved with our work, helping us to support more people with epilepsy
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