I'm John Duncan. I'm a neurologist
at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
I also work as professor of neurology at UCL and as medical director
of the National Society for Epilepsy at Chalfont.
In general, there's very poor public understanding about epilepsy
and there's a huge need for people to understand what epilepsy is,
what causes it and how it's treated.
To get an idea of the scale of the problem,
30,000 people a year develop epilepsy in the UK,
80 people a day.
Now, two thirds of those will do well.
They will take medicine, the seizures will come under control
and life can pretty much return to normal.
For about one third of them, though, that's about 10,000 a year,
the epilepsy is more difficult to treat,
and even with combinations of drugs, people may carry on having seizures.
There is a whole wide range of epileptic seizures.
What people generally think of as an epileptic seizure
is the convulsion, where somebody goes stiff,
they perhaps froth at the mouth, fall to the ground,
arms and legs are juddering, they may bite their tongue,
pass urine and be unconscious for some minutes
and then come around afterwards.
Now, that's only the most severe form of epileptic seizure.
There are many other sorts that are less severe
and perhaps wouldn't easily be recognised.
So, for example, somebody may have attacks
that only give rise to a strange feeling in the stomach
or a feeling of déjà vu, of having been there before,
lasting just a few seconds, and that's all that happens,
so that somebody with that person wouldn't know anything had happened.
That would be one of the most mild forms of epilepsy.
Or, again, somebody might have an episode
where there's just some jerking, some twitching, of a thumb.
Or it may be something called an absence,
whereby somebody simply goes blank, wouldn't know what was happening,
stares vacantly for one or two seconds and then is back to normal.
So there's a whole range of different kinds of epileptic seizures,
a whole range of severities.
If anybody has a concern that they may have epilepsy,
the first thing to do is to see their general practitioner,
to explain the symptoms, and the GP,
if they think epilepsy is a possibility,
is likely to refer them to a specialist.
This will be someone known as a neurologist
who deals with disorders affecting the brain and the nervous system.
There are neurology clinics
at every district general hospital throughout the country
where they would be seen and history would be gone over.
They would have an examination and then the appropriate tests
to see if this is the correct diagnosis
and what might be causing it.
Then they will be able to decide
if, indeed, epilepsy was thought to be the cause,
what medicine would be the most suitable thing to take.
Now, there are a lot of medicines that we can prescribe
that make seizures less likely to occur,
and people have to be clear that this is long-term treatment.
It isn't like taking antibiotics for an infection
where you take it for five, ten days and then everything's fixed.
This will be similar to, say, talking insulin for somebody with diabetes.
The treatment, once started, is going to be long term,
usually for at least two or three years
and for many people, many years longer than that.
So it's important that the treatment is well tolerated.
So the overall outlook for most people is good.
They will have the seizures, be diagnosed, it'll be treated,
and life can pretty much then go back to normal.