Epilepsy: Mark's story

Mark has epilepsy. His memory has been affected and his lifestyle has changed, but in some ways for the better.

Media last reviewed: 21/10/2013

Next review due: 21/10/2015

What to do if you see a seizure

Make sure you know what to do if you see someone having a seizure (fit), whether caused by epilepsy or not

Epilepsy and driving

If you have a seizure, you have a legal responsibility to inform the Driving and Vehicle Licence Authority (DVLA).

You will usually not be able to hold a group one driving licence, required for private cars and motorcycles, until:

  • you have not had a seizure for a year
  • in the case of people who only have seizures during sleep, there has to be a sleep-only pattern of seizures for three or more years, with no seizures occurring during the day

Information on how to contact the DVLA is available on the GOV.UK website.

Read more about living with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated seizures, also known as fits.

Epilepsy affects more than 500,000 people in the UK. This means almost 1 in 100 people has the condition. Epilepsy usually begins during childhood, although it can start at any age.


Seizures are the most common symptom of epilepsy, although many people can have a seizure during their lifetime without developing epilepsy.

The cells in the brain, known as neurones, communicate with each other using electrical impulses. During a seizure, the electrical impulses are disrupted, which can cause the brain and body to behave strangely.

The severity of the seizures can differ from person to person. Some people simply experience a ‘trance-like’ state for a few seconds or minutes, while others lose consciousness and have convulsions (uncontrollable shaking of the body).

Read more about the symptoms of epilepsy.

Why does epilepsy happen?

Epilepsy can happen for many different reasons, although usually it is the result of some kind of brain damage.

Epilepsy can be defined as being one of three types, depending on what caused the condition. These are:

  • Symptomatic epilepsy – when the symptoms of epilepsy are due to damage or disruption to the brain.
  • Cryptogenic epilepsy – when no evidence of damage to the brain can be found, but other symptoms, such as learning difficulties, suggest that damage to the brain has occurred.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy – when no obvious cause for epilepsy can be found.

Read more about the causes of epilepsy.

Diagnosing epilepsy

Epilepsy is most often diagnosed after you have had more than one seizure. This is because many people have a one-off epileptic seizure during their lifetime.

The most important information needed by a GP or neurologist is a description of your seizures. This is how most cases of epilepsy are diagnosed.

Some scans may also be used to help determine which areas of your brain are affected by epilepsy, but these alone cannot be used for a diagnosis.

Read more about diagnosing epilepsy.

How is epilepsy treated?

While medication cannot cure epilepsy, it is often used to control seizures. These medicines are known as anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). In around 70% of cases, seizures are successfully controlled by AEDS.

It can take some time to find the right type and correct dose of AED before your seizures can be controlled.

In some cases, surgery may be used to remove the area of the brain affected or to install an electrical device that can help control seizures.

Read more about treating epilepsy.

Living with epilepsy

While epilepsy is different for everyone, there are some general rules that can help making living with the condition easier.

It is important to stay healthy through regular exercise, a balanced diet and avoiding excessive drinking.

You may have to think about your epilepsy before you undertake things such as driving, using contraception and getting pregnant.

Read more about epilepsy and pregnancy.

Advice is available from your GP or support groups to help you adjust to life with epilepsy.

Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), while rare, is one of the main dangers associated with epilepsy. Every year between 500 and 1,000 people die as a result of SUDEP, this is less than 1% of people with epilepsy.

Although the cause of SUDEP is unknown, a clear understanding of your epilepsy and good management of your seizures can reduce the risk.

Read more about living with epilepsy.

Want to know more?

Page last reviewed: 06/09/2012

Next review due: 06/09/2014


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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Zomirindranjely said on 04 January 2013

Another link about epilepsy: http://www.americancenteruae.com/?patienteduccenter=epilepsy

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Alexandar said on 30 December 2012

Well said Ozzie1. It is important to keep abreast of the developments in neurosciences. It is also essential to keep monitoring the social problems, and find ways of combatting stigma and ignorance. Socially disabling conditions can sometimes cause a deterioration in mental health of the patients (us), which in turn adds an extra un-neccessary strain on health services. Other peoples' attitudes can be harder to deal with than the seizures themselves.

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autum said on 22 November 2012

Just diagnosed, feeling confused?

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autum said on 25 October 2012

Just diagnosed info helpful and so is Epilepsy Action

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angela70 said on 30 August 2012

When you say to people that you have Epilesy you get a look as if you have grown an extra head. I got it when I was 9 years old, due to a head injury and till I was 14 they came and end. Now at 42 I can say I live a well balanced life. But I not my limits and can't burn the candle at both ends....or drink to much...or exercise to much.... I think having epilepsy means that you really have to take care of yourself. You just never no when and where and even after many years free from them its always in the back off my mind....I could taken one. Having understanding and knowledge helps. And the rght medication.

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mandy drysdale said on 17 July 2012

my 2 yr old son has just been diagnosed with epilepsy and i seem to be on a roller coaster of emotions,trying to deal with, it is not easy. I have hundreds of questions and would love to hear how others are coping. I do not have a support group in my area,why has this page not been reviewed in so long?I am feeling strong today and confident,but tomorrow is another day.I would love to be able to find other parents in the same situation just to know i am not alone

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sylb said on 15 January 2012

i had a seizure i aug 2011 it would be useful to have a link with the dvla as not allowed to drive for 6 months life changing does not seem to be mentioned

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ozzie1 said on 07 December 2010

It is disappointing to see this page does not appear to have been reviewed in almost 2 years. What message does this send about the importance of providing up to date services for epilepsy?

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