We exist to improve the lives
of everyone affected by epilepsy

Seizures introduction continued

Causes of epilepsy
When seizures start
When epilepsy has gone away
Seizure triggers

The causes of epilepsy

In around six out of 10 people, doctors don’t know the cause of their epilepsy. For many of these people, it seems that it is just something in the way they are made that makes them more likely to have seizures.

Some people do have a cause for their epilepsy. Sometimes it is caused by damage to parts of the brain which can be brought about by: 

  • A difficult birth
  • A brain infection, such as meningitis
  • A stroke
  • A serious brain injury

 You might have another condition where epilepsy is quite common. Two such conditions are tuberous sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

When seizures start

Seizures can start at any age, but are most common in children and older people. Certain seizure types are more likely to start at certain times of life. For example, children are more likely than adults to have absence seizures, and older people are more likely than children to have focal (partial) seizures.

When epilepsy has gone away

A person will no longer be considered to have epilepsy if they:

  • Had an epilepsy syndrome that only affects people of a certain age, but are now past that age. An example is benign rolandic epilepsy, or
  • Have not had a seizure for 10 years, and had no epilepsy medicine for five years

Seizure triggers

Some things make seizures more likely for some people with epilepsy. These are often called ‘triggers’. Triggers are things like stress, not sleeping well or drinking too much alcohol. Some people say they have more seizures if they miss meals. Not taking your epilepsy medicine is another common trigger. A small number of people with epilepsy have seizures triggered by lights that flash or flicker.

Not everyone has seizures triggers, but for those who do, avoiding triggers lowers the risk of having a seizure.

Epilepsy Action has more information about some common seizure triggers

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk

Pay it forward

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

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. Please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.

Epilepsy Action wishes to thank Dr John Paul Leach, consultant neurologist, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, Glasgow, UK for reviewing this information. 

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

  • Updated July 2014
    To be reviewed July 2017

Comments: read the 16 comments or add yours


Hi, my name is Alex and I am a 25 year old male. I have during the past year/months started having some kind of strange attacks. It starts with a strange feeling that something is wrong, usually accompanied by a taste/smell of blood. After that I feel a tingling sensation in the head and that's when it gets weird. It feels like I enter some kind of dream world, my vision becomes blurred, the world seems slightly distorted (especielly depth perception and shape of objects) + i see lots of flashing dots everywhere. This can lasts for up to several minutes, during which I usually become numb, but can feel very bad muscle tension followed by immediate relaxation. After this episode follows a terrible headache and increase in neuropathic pain (I suffer periphereal neuropathy).

These attacks can happen at any time during the day. They make absolutely no sense. They can happen when I am trying to excercise or when watching tv, while working or while at home. It has gotten so bad I am bed ridden with dizzyness most of the day + I seem to suffer memory loss, but I do not know if this is because of my meds (I take 4800mg gabapentin daily for the pain). So I have decided to see a doctor and he has ordered a CT scan.

While I wait for the scan, does it sound like I have epilepsy? And is a CT scan with contrast the normal way to diagnose it?

Submitted by Alexander on

Dear Alex

It sounds like you’re having a bad time with your health.

Here is all our information about diagnosing epilepsy. We aren’t medically trained and wouldn’t be able to diagnose you. A CT is one of the possible tests which help a doctor to diagnose epilepsy. Here is some information about a CT with contrast. As you can see, the dye helps to distinguish blood vessels from other structures in your brain.

If the doctors think there is a possibility you have epilepsy they are likely to do an EEG as well.

As you will see from our information, there are very many different seizure types. Your experience does not immediately fit any one type. But it is good that it is being investigated.

I do hope you get some answers soon.

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry on

I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 13 I remember I had focal seizures for years before that I didn't know how to tell people I thought I was a weirdo and thought everyone else would too. I'm 36 now been taking meds for years I had some lab work done requested by my husband's insurance company. The results came back liver inflation there was 5 different things that were higher than they were supposed to be 2 were extremely high!! I'm worried and thinking it was all the medicine I've been taking for years!! I haven't been in to Dr. yet told them but they didn't act like it bothered them to much anyway I'm scared to keep taking my meds!!

Submitted by Michaleena on

Hi Michaleena

Thanks for your message. I can understand your concern about your lab results. However, the issues with your liver may or may not be related to your epilepsy medicines. It is very important that you do not make any changes to your epilepsy medicine yourself, which could cause you to have more seizures. The best thing to do would be to discuss the lab results with your doctor, to see if there is a chance they might be related to your epilepsy medicines. If that is a possibility, then you should seek advice from your epilepsy specialist or epilepsy nurse to find out what steps to take next.

Our website talks about epilepsy treatment and medicines, which you might find helpful.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Yours sincerely

Sacha Wellborn

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Sacha on

hi my daughter whos 3 has been diagnosed with focal epilpsey with secondary generlisation.. she has tonic clonic fits and has carbamazapine 2 times per day
we have been given buccolam midazalom for when she has another fit hers last for45 mins to an hour.
iv heard that sometimes you can fall behind in school etc is there any support for children.
also is there any further Info on focal epilpsey with secondary generlisation

Submitted by emma on

Hi Emma

The page you have come from is the only information we have about focal epilepsy with secondary generalisation.

But we do also have a variety of information about education.   

A child’s learning will not necessarily be affected by their epilepsy or their epilepsy medicine. So you may find your daughter does not have any problems with learning. Here is our information  on support.

 We do also have a section on information for parents of children with epilepsy This includes information on learning, behaviour and epilepsy which you may find useful.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 

Epilepsy Action advice and information team

Submitted by Cherry@Epilepsy... on

I have had epilepsy most of my life and was recently diagnosed as having a second type. I guess that this explains why I often have strange sensations and deja vu type experiences. I had started believing that maybe some type of and diagnose psychological condition. I am somewhat relieved now but, still do not have the desire to socialize much. I often feel as though I do not "fit in". As a child, I always knew that I was different.
Adulthood has been very difficult. Children seem to be more accepting of the condion but, adults don't seem to be too accepting... I can not speak for everyone. This has just been my experience. In my opinion, having epilepsy as an adult has taken its toll on me emotionall to a large degree. I believe that things will eventually get better. I just hope that folks understand that this condition affects every aspect of a persons life. Through the mistreatment ofbothers, my self esteem has been greatly affected. That old saying holds very true: "Treat others as you wish to be treated". Words,:mistreatment and ousting can also kill a spirit. Best wishes to all.

Submitted by Traci on

I have been suffering from epilepsy for 3/4 years and it appeared to be under control for the previous 2 and a half years, however last night I experienced another episode which seemed a lot different from the other episodes, where I was imagining I was shouting for help when I wasn't and things that were around me such as my pillow could and would help me. However a few times before I would experience a tingle in my left arm, which I know I could feel the start of an episode, however by finding the pressure point in my arm I find it stops this, is this normal?

Submitted by Matt K on

Hi Matt

Some people do find ways of stopping their seizures, so your pressure point method could be something that works for you. However, as you have had symptoms that are not normal for you, it would be best to talk to your family doctor. As trained epilepsy advisers, we can give you general information on epilepsy and related issues. But we’re not able to diagnose your symptoms.

If your symptoms are related to your epilepsy, it could be a type of focal seizure. These are a type of seizure where the epileptic activity starts in just a part of your brain. This means you may remain alert during this type of seizure, and experience unusual sensations or feelings. You can’t stop these seizures but they are generally very brief, lasting seconds or minutes.


If you have experienced any more of these symptom’s you may wish to keep a diary. A seizure diary can be a helpful record of what’s been happening with your epilepsy, for you and your doctor.




Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

Hi im writing this to give hope to young people and all that suffers from epilepsy my name is john iv had fits ever since I was 9 at first I diddent understand and as time went on I thought my life was over it was like the devil was talking to me when I had the I had them around 1nc a fortnight always early morning when asleep I would first get a cramp feeling in my right leg take note always my right leg it would be the warning and last for around 2 seconds if I diddent wake up and pull out of it I would go into a fit here's the worst part I thought I had the devil in me I knew I was on my bed but a voice was saying john roll roll roll to roll off my bed even though I would end up on the floor the voice still said u failed you failed it would last iv been told for around 2 minutes I know it sounds really weird even mental but that's what I went through im now 30 and haven't had 1 in 5 years I had them up to around 22 every fortnight and then 1nc every 4 months and then it stopped I still got the leg feeling about 3 years ago but I was now able to stop it by waking up I hope some people can relaite to my experience mainly young kids and teenagers who feel like thEUR weird it will pass I know it's horrible but it will pass I think when I fell from my bike and split my head open corsed my fits when I was young I now have a wife 2 children 1 boy 8 and a girl 10 and a job please don't think your any different your not it's just you may have hit your head and made your brain corse them it's the worst thing in the world it will effect your life but you will get better look at it like this some people have no food or water or are disability all their life always think that their are people who suffer more please be strong. Also I don't take any meds it's just gone I think I had whats called pette male anyway I hope this helps at least 1 person relise life goes on take care

Submitted by john1134 on

I had a seizure at work a month ago my body went stiff but relaxed after 4 minutes my colleague told me i was at work yesterday and my hands started shaking and then i got a headache knew i had a seizure coming my colleague put me in a quite room on my own cant remember any thing after that my colleague said he found me on floor should he have left me

Submitted by ann marir on

Hi Ann
It would be good practice if someone, possibly the first aider, stayed with you until the seizure stopped and you are alert enough to look after yourself.

It would be advisable for your employer and yourself to work out a care plan. The information in the care plan can include what happens when you have a seizure and how people can help you during and afterwards.


Please feel free to download or use any of our information to help with your care plan.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 


Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

It's interesting that you say someone is no longer considered epileptic if they've not had a seizure for 10 years...

I woke up one morning 11 years ago, not knowing where I was or what day it was, and wet (though I didn't know why). Mum called the doctor out who said I was stressed and to take 2 days off work. (Mum said it was sweat not urine to the doctor but told me afterwards that I had wet the bed.) I was fine after that episode and never had any more problems.

Nearly 3 months ago, I woke tired so thought I'd rest a while before getting up. Then I felt something come towards me and had a fit. I thought I was conscious throughout this horrible experience (during which I realised I was hyperventilating, which was probably the scariest thing!), but then "came to" on the floor beside my bed so was confused about this, but realised I must have lost consciousness at some point.

I saw the neurologist last week who said it's "highly likely" I'm epileptic so he's going to send me for an EEG and MRI to have this confirmed. Unfortunately for me, I'm taking longer to recover this time and still have a "swimmy" head if I get tired. I'm assuming I'm taking longer to recover just because I'm in my late 30's now.

So am I highly unusual in the prospect of having gone 11 years without an episode or has something been "re-awakened" in me now I'm older and potentially more stressed?

Submitted by Julie on

Hi Julie

I really understand your question. One of the many challenging thing about epilepsy is how unpredictable it is. We won’t be able to give you a definite answer because we’re not medically trained. But here are some thoughts.

Everyone has a seizure threshold. It may be that your first seizure happened because something made your seizure threshold dip low enough for this to happen on one occasion. So it may be that this is what happened again.

The question will be whether your threshold has now dipped low enough for you to have seizures more often. Two seizures that far apart would not automatically mean you had epilepsy. The tests will help but they can add information to the jigsaw rather that always being a reliable diagnostic tool in themselves.

I do hope you’re starting to feel better now. If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Sacha on

hi I recently had to spend a week in hospital with seizures, it started whilst I was at work I remember not feeling right I had deja vu whilst at work then a headache one of my colleagues came up to me and said are you alright I said no and he went for the doctor who then took me to clinical room the doctor knew I was epileptic he told me after I came back to work what had happened when he had taken me to clinical room I had a seizure and was just coming round when I had another 2 seizures he called for an ambulance where I had another 2 seizures in ambulance then 1 in a and e and ct scanner they give me medication to stop them I had more on ward during the week they have changed my medication and I haven't had any more as it turned out I had 2 stressful weeks at work and the stress had caused them. work have now done a care plan for me I work in a community hospital hence doctor being there is there any thing I need to do to stop this reacurring please

Submitted by ann marie on

Hi Ann Marie

That sounds like a very distressing experience. I do hope you are starting to feel better now.

I wonder whether it was your regular neurologist who saw you in hospital? If not, it would be a good idea to check they know what has happened for you and what they feel about your medication change.

You will no doubt know about the various possible seizure triggers. Certainly it’s not easy for us to avoid stress. We have helpful tips in our information on epilepsy and wellbeing.

The main hope is that your epilepsy medicine will start to keep the seizures in check.

I hope this information is useful for you. But If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Advice and Information Services Officer

Submitted by Cherry@Epilepsy... on