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What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain. When someone has epilepsy, it means they have a tendency to have epileptic seizures.

Anyone can have a one-off seizure, but this doesn’t always mean they have epilepsy. Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed if someone has had more than one seizure, and doctors think it is likely they could have more.

Epilepsy can start at any age and there are many different types. Some types of epilepsy last for a limited time and the person eventually stops having seizures. But for many people epilepsy is a life-long condition.

What are epileptic seizures?

Electrical activity is happening in our brain all the time, as the cells in the brain send messages to each other. A seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. This causes a temporary disruption to the way the brain normally works. The result is an epileptic seizure.

There are many different types of seizure. What happens to someone during a seizure depends on which part of their brain is affected. During some types of seizure the person may remain alert and aware of what’s going on around them, and with other types they may lose awareness. They may have unusual sensations, feelings or movements. Or they may go stiff, fall to the floor and jerk.

Read more about different types of epileptic seizures or take our quick e-learning module to see what different types of seizures look like and learn what to do when someone has one.

How common is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is one of the most common serious neurological conditions in the world. It affects around 600,000 people in the UK. This means that almost 1 in 100 people in the UK have epilepsy. Around 87 people are diagnosed with epilepsy in the UK every day.

What causes epilepsy?

Sometimes, doctors can find a clear cause for a person’s epilepsy. Possible causes of epilepsy include:

  • Stroke
  • A brain infection, such as meningitis
  • Severe head injury
  • Problems during birth which caused the baby to get less oxygen

But in over half of all people with epilepsy, doctors don’t know what caused it. Some may have a family history of epilepsy, suggesting that they may have inherited it. Scientists are trying to find out more about how epilepsy might be inherited.

Find out more about epilepsy and inheritance.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

The main way doctors diagnose epilepsy is by taking a detailed description of the seizures. They may also arrange for some tests to help give them more information about the possible type and cause of the epilepsy. This can also help rule out any other conditions that could be causing seizures. These tests can include blood tests, an EEG (recording of the brainwaves) and brain scans. But there isn’t a single test that can prove if someone does or does not have epilepsy.  

Find out more about how epilepsy is diagnosed and the tests involved.

How is epilepsy treated?

The main treatment for epilepsy is epilepsy medicines. These are sometimes called anti-epileptic drugs or AEDs. The medicine doesn’t cure epilepsy, but helps to stop or reduce the number of seizures.

If epilepsy medicine doesn’t work well for someone, their doctor might suggest other types of treatment. Other types of treatment include brain surgery, another type of surgery called vagus nerve stimulation, and a special diet called the ketogenic diet which is sometimes used for children.

Find out more about epilepsy treatment.

How can I help someone having a seizure?

Visit our first aid for seizures webpage.

Take our quick e-learning module to find out what to do when someone has a seizure.

What is living with epilepsy like?

Epilepsy affects everyone in different ways. Watch our videos of people sharing their experiences of living with epilepsy.

Further information

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See What is epilepsy? If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
F092.03

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

  • Updated May 2016
    To be reviewed May 2019

Comments: read the 14 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi, I am 28 years old female. I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 17. I used to get seizure almost regularly every month.I was & I am still on medication. Doctors told me that its life long one, cant be cured by any surgery, nor can cure entirely,only can reduce the seizure frequency.

I got married at the age of 20. I delivered my first baby at the age of 24. I got severe epileptic attack on my 6th month last due to that I fall & hurt my tummy with baby. Husband & other people rushed me to hospital.

I don't remember anything, but as per records I delivered baby via "c" section that evening itself. My baby girl survived in NICU. She was in incubator for almost 3 months.

I went through depression, stress & all. But still I didn't loose hope. Baby girl was safe, we bought her back home. She is good & healthy now. I started my career & continuing my studies. I am working with an MNC. It was a turning point. I felt happy & forget that I am a epileptic patient.

But the sad part is when other people see me or when they pass by,or other example is my husband & his friends started spreading rumors that I am an epileptic patient & due to it I am mental. They all look at me like a mental person. That gives me more pain.

I personally think people should be aware of epileptic conditions. Some times I think whether am I a mental patient as what they say?

Submitted by Revathy on

I was luckily diagnosed at a young age with epilepsy by my mum who also suffers with epilepsy. At first I was reluctant and his medication however after a while I became aware of what relatives said about epilepsy and differences in episodes. Luckily I suffer from a mild epilepsy, providing I take the medication my doctor prescribed. It was horrible at first because when visiting the doctors for help and treatment, I hated being in the surgery and being analysed by someone who wasn't my mother. After a year of going through doctors who for differentiating reasons, couldn't help with my epilepsy, my mum had appealed and was finally recommended to a neurologist who specialises in epilepsy in children. After only a few months I was put on the right course of treatment and over the past two years have slowly become more aware of the world around me. Growing up as a child I struggled to understand the world around me and have been told it was probably because I often had 'blank out' seizures, which is when you are there but your mind goes blank because the neurotransmitters aren't crossing the synapses in your brain properly, so even if you are listening your main focus is on anfar off place. To compensate for this I was a bit closed off from a lot of my peers and had many imaginary friends growing up, however faced a lot of bullying because my peers thought I was strange and were just a little bit less aware than me about my epilepsy. My mum was desperate to get me to socialise, despite being a happy go lucky sort of child, I still struggled with socialising as other children did, and she would often go all out on presents for children when I was invited to parties. As niave child I thought everyone was my friend and wanted my whole class to come to my birthdays. Only my teachers knew vaguely what was going on. After primary school and throughout high school I've slowly started adjusting to a normal life minus the medication dayly and nightly. I'm so thankful for mums support and am glad I was able to get the right treatment even if the condition is still mystery to me. All I know is that so long as I take my medication when I wake up and before I go to bed I can live a relatively normal life and no one needs to know of my epilepsy. After my treatment was regulated and confirmed I was involved in a study where I spent a day under tests for different responses. I hope epilepsy research continues so that treatment for people who aren't as lucky as me can one day live a normal life. At the moment I'm aiming to finish college and move onto a full-time job.

Submitted by JustPassingThrough on

Hi I have had 5 fits now over the last few years the most recent one was a month ago today and the one I had before that was about four years ago maybe in 2002 I went to see a neurologist and had some tests and they all came back fine this most recent fit was different from the rest as the others I just collapsed and I was told I was shacking the one I had a month ago I think I knew it was going to happen as I got all light headed and I saw yellow dots for a few seconds then the dots changed to rainbows ive been referred to a neurologist to have more tests done bit not sure how long it will take for the appointment is there any help u could give me as to why these are happening

Submitted by Marc on

Hello Marc
The way a seizure affects a person depends on the area of the brain that the burst of electrical activity happens in. Some people do get a warning that a seizure is going to happen, whereas others do not. We have some information on our website about different seizure typeswhich tells you more about this.

Sometimes a person may notice that their seizures change. It is possible that the symptoms you are having are related to your epilepsy, but they also may not be. It is good to hear that you have been referred back to your neurologist as this will give you chance to try to find a cause for what is happening. This will also give you an opportunity to talk about what has been happening and to check whether any treatment you are getting is still the best for you.

The time it takes to see a neurologist and start treatment if necessary can vary depending on where you are in the UK. Guidelines say that these are:

I hope you get to see a neurologist soon. If you want to talk about this, or if we can be of any more help please feel free to get in touch.

Karen
Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Karen - Epileps... on

Can I just thank the website for all the useful information. I've had one nocturnal seizure the other month I've always had de ja vu and impending doom feelings. I've been put on meds and left your site has been invaluable I've had so many questions thanks

Submitted by Marie on

Hi Marie,

Thank you so much for the feedback. We were glad to have helped.

Rich - Epilepsy Action

Submitted by rich on

Hi my husband has epilepsy and he only has a few fits a year now but they are getting more aggressive and dangerous for me and my children any advice

Submitted by Maria on

Hi Maria 

That sounds like a really upsetting situation for you all. So I can give you the right advice, it would really help if you could answer a couple of questions:

1-What types of seizures (fits) does your husband have? If you’re not sure of the name for them, you can just describe what happens during them.

2-When you say they are becoming  more aggressive and dangerous do you mean he behaves aggressively towards you during or after them? Or something else?

You can let us know by posting another comment here, emailing us at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or by calling our freephone Epilepsy Action Helpline on 0808 800 5050, Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.30pm.

Best wishes

Grace

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Hi

I was diagnosed with epilepsy i at the age of 12 years old and now I'm 20 years old. I have had very bad seizures in teenagehood.

I would have then through smells, sounds, emotions, stress, taste and sometimes lights.

Due to the medications I took from the past of carbozine I don't take it anymore that was when I was 12-15 years old. I can remember few which was confusing, behaviour and tiedness.

At 14 years old. Carbozine dose was being cut down as my seizures have been decreasing, the seizures have started to increase again making do various types for example, tonic from witnessing gunshots.

At the age of 16 years old the dr put on to epilim which have created many effects of confusion, moods swing's, lazyness, emotional, aggressive,memory loss, twitching and blured talking. This has very much changed my lifestyle.I took 1.5g in the morning and night, now i take 1g morning and night

At 18 years-20 years old i took keppra which has very much made my behaviour go into nasty habits of fighting, I had been fighting in class at teachers and students. I took 1g in the morning and night I don't take keppra anymore.

I take lamotrogine at 19 years old 200mg each day I have not seen no sign of sideffect.

All together i took 5.2g each day now because my keppra is off and epilim is cut down and it may be cut down again to 750mg. In total I take 2.2g each day.

I have never seen a sign of seizures from 5/12/2016. I have been thinking many things in my head is epilepsy a gift or a curse? As I feel I see visions of fortunes predicting my future.

I have been wondering around the UK alone travelling to help my epilepsy for feeling and my autism to keep me happy with a disabled railcard and a free travel around London.

I have said to my mum is would like to join meeting with people who have epilepsy to share my experience.

In my lifetime when I was thinking of people who had epilepsy i think mostly of Prince john from the royal family born in early 20th century because we are mostly a like due to autism and epilepsy. Prince John was like my icon hero.

Kind regards, Tayo Bradshaw

Submitted by Tayo Bradshaw on

I've had epilepsy for 9 years now and every time I've had a seizure I've always been sitting down or lying down this most resent one I was standing up I fell into my fridge and my neck took the full force of the impact I was told by the doctors I'm lucky to be alive it's really opened my eyes more to the dangers we have to face I'm really scared aswell

Submitted by Mark on

I unfortunately lost my mum last month due to her epilepsy. She had got epilepsy when she was 16 but died at such a young age of 39. I was a young carer for her and we got lots of support, however I know what living with someone with epilepsy is like and how serious it actually is. I was just wondering if I could have some help raising awareness as when I explained the death of my mother to friends, they didn't know what it was,
Kind regards.

Submitted by Jasmine Talbot on

I thought i would update everyone that i have temporal lobe epilepsy which is some small damage to the left area of my brain which i could have been born with. I first had my seizures when i was 21 whilst at work on the phone at my desk which is when i spaced out but another colleague rushed over and took my phone to continue the conversation for me. I came around not knowing what had just happened so i saw the doctors, had the brain scans finding out that i had epilepsy. Im 32 now and I've tried many different types of medication which unfortunately hasn't controlled my seizures which has got worse since i was 21. I have them now more regular which is once a week and tends to be in the evenings. Im not longer in employment as three companies have turned against me because of my epilepsy but now due to health and safety I'm not longer working as I've had seizures on trains and walking down the street which is a danger whilst on my own and theres risk of one day getting hit by a car whilst having a seizure attempting to cross the road. When I've had a seizure watching the TV the characters start talking about epilepsy which is a clue to me that I'm about to have one. Ive been told i go white as a ghost and i clap my lips together and i don't know what time of day it is? I tend to go to bed and take my clothes off even though its 3.00pm in the afternoon. When i come back around from the seizure which takes about 1 or 2 min's i feel really tired and realise that I've had a seizure but still cant remember whats happened as it really badly affects my memory. My epilepsy is only mild so i don't crash to the floor and shake. I will now be soon trying some more new tablets to see if it makes any difference and if not then a brain operation is the next opinion to take to try and get this controlled. Ive been lucky having the support of my parents who i still currently live with paying them rent. Hopefully this will get controlled soon. I am currently getting the ESA Support Group Benefits but been refused many many times by the PIP Benefit saying theres nothing wrong with me…. its now with a Courts Tribunal and i am awaiting contact to get a decision made.

Submitted by Daniel on

I have a 5yr old son who has had 2 prolonged seizures, the 1st when he was only 19 months old & the 2nd in February last year it lasted over an hr & 40 minutes. He ended up on ventilator that time. He's had little one's since then lasting from a few seconds to a min & as yet they still haven't diagnosed him. The last 2wks have been awful, he's having upto 4 a day some days & only 1 day with none. I'm calling the epilepsy nurse every other day, I've had him in children A&E twice these last 2wks & still feel like I'm getting nowhere, it's so frustrating and frightening, I don't know what else to do. I've badgered Alderhey this week & got them to fit him in for sleep deprived EEG tomorrow 27/04/18 but the mri isn't being done until 24th May at Arrow Park Hospital, I'm at my wits end & my 9yr old is a wreck waiting for the next one to happen, he's terrified for his little brother. The school have been great as its happened in school a few times this last 2wks as well & they're concerned not enough is being done either. I wish someone would just help me xxx

Submitted by Lisa Murray on

Hi Lisa, 

Thank you for your message. It sounds like you have been having a really difficult time. And it can be so hard waiting for an official diagnosis. Here is some information about diagnosing epilepsy and some information about epilepsy in children

The long seizures must have been distressing to watch. You might find the information I have linked you to useful. It’s great that your son hasn’t had one of these for some time.

I am guessing the little seizures you mention may be absences. So here is some information about those too. Although I am sure they are also a concern, they are not dangerous in the same way the long seizures can be.

It sounds like you are doing your very best to get all the information and appointments sorted for your son. Hopefully the EEG result will offer more information to help towards a diagnosis.

We do have some resources that might be helpful for your older son. We have a website for children. And we have some information specifically for siblings. I really hope that help to reassure him a bit.

Here is the range of support we offer. Many people find it useful to talk to someone in a similar situation to themselves. So do check out the coffee and chat groups and our online community forum4e.

And 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.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

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