Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, which may vary from a brief lapse of attention or muscle jerks, to severe and prolonged convulsions.

Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works. They can cause a wide range of symptoms.Epilepsy can start at any age, but usually starts either in childhood or in people over 60. It’s often lifelong, but can sometimes get slowly better over time.

Symptoms of epilepsy

Seizures can affect people in different ways, depending on which part of the brain is involved.

Possible symptoms include:

  • uncontrollable jerking and shaking – called a “fit”
  • losing awareness and staring blankly into space
  • becoming stiff
  • strange sensations – such as a “rising” feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs
  • collapsing

Sometimes you might pass out and not remember what happened.

Treatments for epilepsy

Treatment can help most people with epilepsy have fewer seizures or stop having seizures completely.

Treatments include:

  • medicines called anti-epileptic drugs – these are the main treatment
  • surgery to remove a small part of the brain that’s causing the seizures
  • a procedure to put a small electrical device inside the body that can help control seizures
  • a special diet (ketogenic diet) that can help control seizures

Some people need treatment for life. But you might be able to stop treatment if your seizures disappear over time.

Causes of epilepsy

In epilepsy, the electrical signals in the brain become scrambled and there are sometimes sudden bursts of electrical activity. This is what causes seizures.

In most cases, it’s not clear why this happens. It’s possible it could be partly caused by your genes affecting how your brain works, as around one in three people with epilepsy have a family member with it.

Occasionally, epilepsy can be caused by damage to the brain, such as damage from:

  • a stroke
  • a brain tumour
  • a severe head injury
  • drug abuse or alcohol misuse
  • a brain infection
  • a lack of oxygen during birth

Publications

AHO Strategy and Plan of Action on Epilepsy

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