Epilepsy 

Introduction 

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

Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated seizures, which were sometimes previously referred to as "fits".

Epilepsy is estimated to affect more than 500,000 people in the UK. This means that almost one in every 100 people has the condition.

Seizures

The cells in the brain, known as neurons, conduct electrical signals and communicate with each other in the brain using chemical messengers. During a seizure, there are abnormal bursts of neurons firing off electrical impulses, which can cause the brain and body to behave strangely.

The severity of seizures can differ from person to person. Some people simply experience an odd feeling with no loss of awareness, or may have a "trance-like" state for a few seconds or minutes, while others lose consciousness and have convulsions (uncontrollable shaking of the body).

Some people may only have a single seizure at some point during their life. If they do not have a high risk of having further seizures, they would not be regarded as having epilepsy. 

Read more about the symptoms of epilepsy.

What causes epilepsy?

Epilepsy can start at any age, but it most often begins during childhood.

It's often not possible to identify a specific reason why someone develops the condition, although some cases  particularly those that occur later in life  are associated with damage to the brain.

For example, epilepsy can be caused by strokesbrain tumours and severe head injuries.

Some cases of epilepsy may be caused by changes in the brain that occur as a result of the genes you inherit from your parents.

Read more about the causes of epilepsy.

How epilepsy is diagnosed

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 to make a diagnosis is a description of your seizures from yourself and someone who witnessed the event, but tests may also be carried out to help determine which areas of your brain are affected and look for a potential cause.

Read more about diagnosing epilepsy.

How epilepsy is treated

For most people with epilepsy, treatment with medications called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) is recommended. These medications cannot cure epilepsy, but they are often very effective in controlling seizures.

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

In a few cases, surgery may be used to remove a specific area of the brain that is 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 make living with the condition easier.

It's important to stay healthy through regular exercise, getting enough sleep, eating 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 planning a pregnancy.

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

Read more about living with epilepsy.

Want to know more?

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2014

Next review due: 25/11/2016

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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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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

The NHS Choices health apps library

Find an epilepsy app

Living with epilepsy? Get an NHS-reviewed app to help you manage the condition