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of everyone affected by epilepsy



If someone is diagnosed with epilepsy, it means they have a tendency to have seizures (sometimes called fits). Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed after the person has had two seizures or more.

Seizures can happen in any part of the brain. The brain is responsible for all the functions of our mind and body. What any of us experiences during a seizure will depend on where in the brain the seizure is happening. 

These web pages give a brief explanation of the most common types of epileptic seizure.

The structure of the brain

3D image showining different parts of the brain

Why seizures happen

Electrical activity is happening in our brain all the time. A seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity. This intense electrical activity causes a temporary disruption to the way the brain normally works, meaning that the brain’s messages become mixed up. The result is an epileptic seizure.

In these web pages, the term ‘epileptic activity’ is used to talk about this intense electrical activity.

When seizures start

Seizures can start at any age. Certain seizure types are more likely to start at certain times of life. For example, absence seizures mainly happen in childhood. Some children go on to have them when they are adults, but this is rare. In older people, focal seizures (also called partial) are the most common seizure type.

Seizure classification

The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), a world-wide organisation of epilepsy professionals, has compiled a list of the names of different seizure types. This is called the ILAE seizure classification. The names given to different types of seizures are based on this classification.

Giving seizures the right names is important for doctors. This is because some drugs and treatments can help some seizure types but not others.

Seizure types

There are many different types of seizure. They can be classed by where in the brain the epileptic activity starts.

Focal (partial) seizures

In these seizures the epileptic activity starts in just a part of your brain. You may remain alert during this type of seizure, or you may not be aware of what is happening. You may have movements that you can’t control, or unusual sensations or feelings. Sometimes, onlookers may not be aware that you are having a seizure.

Focal seizures can be very brief or last for minutes. Sometimes, epileptic activity starts as a focal seizure, spreads to the rest of your brain and becomes a generalised seizure.

Generalised seizures

These seizures involve epileptic activity in both hemispheres (halves) of your brain. You usually lose consciousness during this type of seizure, but sometimes it can be so brief that no one notices. The muscles in your body may stiffen and/or jerk. You may fall down.

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This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

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This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated August 2013
    To be reviewed August 2015

Comments: read the 6 comments or add yours


Hi im 42 and was dignosed 3 years ago with epilpsy, i find it hard to describe i also suffer from severe abdominnal pain and just recently i have started taking fits when my pain reaches a severe level, now this is not the case every time, the neuro thinks i ave both epilpsy and non epilpsy im confussed as ive looked the non epilptic condition and does't seem to sound the same as my condition i feel im not explaining myself properly to my neuro and he's drawing his own conclusions, when i talk to him i forget half the things i need to say and he asks and answers the questions, my medication has worked up until a certain degree.

Submitted by marie on

Hi. It sounds like you’re having a difficult time. Some people with epilepsy do say that pain is a trigger for their seizures. Have you talked to your GP about the abdominal pain, so they can investigate the possible causes for this?

As you find it difficult to explain yourself to your neurologist, would it be helpful to write things down before you go to see him? Also, is there anybody who could come with you to your appointment, to offer you support? Also, do you know if there is an epilepsy nurse you could talk to? Sometimes they have more time than the neurologist to listen and explain things more clearly to you.

If you’d like to find out if there’s an epilepsy nurse near you, please contact the Epilepsy Helpline, freephone 0808 800 5050.

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Amanda@Epilepsy... on

Hi I'm 21 and was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 6. They said it was related to a benign tumour I had in my brain. I started having fits and by the time I was 9 I was bed bound having around 40 a day. They removed my tumour and I was seizure free until now. Lately I've been getting a strange feeling when I'm really tired or stressed where my tongue rolls and my muscles feel stiff and heavy and my jaw feels like its clenching. I don't know what to do. I have a great job and life and I'm so scared of what will happen if I tell the doctors. I don't wanna go through surgery again.

Submitted by Ria on

Hi Ria

I appreciate how worried and scared you must be feeling. But it is advisable for you to talk to your doctor who could try and find out what’s happening.

If the doctors confirm your epilepsy has returned, it doesn’t have to mean you tumour has also returned or you will need to have surgery again.

The most common way epilepsy is treated is with epilepsy medicine. Most people with epilepsy can have their seizures controlled with their medicine, to enable them still enjoy their work and social lives.

If you’d like to discuss this and any specific concerns about your job further, please contact our helpline team. You can either email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or phone the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Diane Wallace
Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

Hi, my name is Ella.

My boyfreind has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and I had just found out myself. He never really tells me about the World he lives in and the problems he encounters everyday which normally results in me trying dish the answers

Being an adult my only concern is that I spend 70% of my life being with him and I haven't been assured on what to do if he encounters an epileptic seizure.

I am very concerned for his health and will try talking to him, getting things out to lay out on the table.

Being concerned about his health and the way epilepsy plays a major role towards life, I hope to gain more knowledge
into this and try producing schemes or enter events such as the marathon races to support those people that make us realise how lucky we are.

Could you please provide me thorough information, guidance and advice on how I could make life more enhancing to my boyfreind and how I could prevent him from having these seizures cause I promised him I would be there every step of the way.

Many thanks, Ella.

Submitted by Ella on

Hi Ella

Your boyfriend is lucky to have someone so supportive. But it can be difficult for some people to open up and talk about their epilepsy. Or, it may be that your boyfriend feels that he’s coping perfectly well with his condition.

We can’t specifically say how you can enhance your boyfriends life, because epilepsy affects people differently. Also people cope with epilepsy differently too. You might already be enhancing his life by being supportive. If you would like to learn more about epilepsy and the [different seizure types] http://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/seizures, we have lots of information on our [website] www.epilepsy.org.uk. There are many different aspects of epilepsy that you could learn about. Then once your boyfriend wants to talk to you about his epilepsy, you will have some idea of what he means.

I’m not sure how you can prevent your boyfriend from having seizures. However, it might help you to understand how your boyfriend might be able to prevent some of his seizures. One thing is take epilepsy medicines as prescribed by the doctor. Also, some people with epilepsy find that there are some things that can make seizures more likely, also called [triggers of seizures] http://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/triggers. Some examples of possible triggers are, lack of food, lack of sleep, stress and alcohol. So avoiding possible triggers may result in fewer seizures.

I hope this helps.


Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Rosanna on

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