What is Epilepsy?

  • Epilepsy can be defined as a neurological condition causing the tendency for repeated seizures of primary cerebral origin.
  • It can affect anyone at any age without warning or apparent cause, but epilepsy is most frequently diagnosed in early childhood, adolescence and people over 65 years of age.
  • Epilepsy is the most common chronic brain disorder worldwide.
  • Epilepsy is a condition of the brain, not a mental illness.
  • It is commonly thought that epilepsy always involves convulsions. In fact, there are many different causes, about 40 different types of epilepsy and epilepsy syndromes.
  • More than 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy and 80% of them live in developing countries.
  • Epilepsy is diagnosed if someone has:
      • At least two unprovoked (or reflex) seizures occurring >24 h apart
      • One unprovoked (or reflex) seizure and a probability of further seizures happening

    Who gets epilepsy?

  • Epilepsy and seizures can develop in any person at any age.
  • Factors such as other health conditions, age, and race may make developing epilepsy and seizures more likely.
  • Approximately 600,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of epilepsy and take anti-epileptic drugs.
  • This is equivalent to approximately 1 in 103 people.
  • The prevalence rate of epilepsy in the UK is approximately 9.7 per 1,000 or 0.97%.

What happens during a seizure?

The brain is responsible for all the functions of our body. What happens to you during a seizure will depend on where in your brain the epileptic activity begins, and how widely and quickly it spreads.

  • A seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. This is often referred to as epileptic activity.
  • The epileptic activity causes a temporary disruption to the way the brain normally works, so the brain’s messages become mixed up.
  • Seizures can vary from the briefest lapses of attention or muscle jerks to severe and prolonged convulsions.
  • Seizures can also vary in frequency, from less than 1 per year to several per day ii.
  • With treatment, an estimated 60-70% of people with epilepsy can be seizure free.

The causes of Epilepsy

Causes of epilepsy vary by age of the person. Sometimes the reason epilepsy develops is clear. It could be because of brain damage caused by a difficult birth, a severe blow to the head, a stroke, or an infection of the brain such as meningitis. One-third of children with autism spectrum disorder may have seizures. Very occasionally the cause is a brain tumour. In around six out of 10 people, doctors don’t know the cause of their epilepsy. For many of these people, it is just part of how they are genetically made that makes them more likely to have a seizure.

Information is taken from

  • ILAE clinical definition of epilepsy – Website: http://ilae.org
  • Epilepsy Action – https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/
  • Joint Epilepsy Council_September_11_(3).pdf
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