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Someone who has bitten the tip of their tongue while having a seizure

Epilepsy is a chronic condition of the brain. It is characterized by seizures that do not seem to have an obvious cause.[1][2] To the outside viewer, these seizures show as episodes of heavy shaking.[3] Depending on the seizure, the shaking may be short and difficult to detect or it may be longer.

People with epilepsy are sometimes called epileptic, but it is the fit or seizure that is "epileptic".

Many people have died from seizures.

Different forms

There are many different forms of seizures, and there are also many different forms of epilepsy. Most forms of epilepsy cannot be cured. In most cases, drugs can make life easier for those suffering from it. In very few cases, (which are difficult treat), surgery may help. In some cases, only eating special things (called a diet) may help. A special diet has been developed; it is called Ketogenic diet. When it was developed, it was mainly used to treat certain children with epilepsy, before good drugs became available. Today, it is used to treat certain cases where drugs do not seem to help.

Certain forms of the disease disappear after a time, they do e.g. only occur in childhood. Epilepsy is not one condition. Rather, it stands for a number of health problems that all show in the same ways.


The condition is very common; about one percent of people worldwide (65 million) have epilepsy.[4] Nearly eighty percent of all cases occur in developing countries.[3] Epilepsy becomes more common as people age.[5][6] In the developed world, onset of new cases occurs most frequently in infants and the elderly.[7] In the developing world this is in older children and young adults.[8] Between five and ten percent of all people will have an unprovoked seizure by the age of eighty.[9] The chance of having a second seizure is between forty and fifty percent.[10]

Common things

The condition has many forms, but generally the following is true:

  • People may get muscular seizures or convulsions.
  • People lose control over their body. Feces may be released in the process. They may fall to the floor and hurt themselves when they are standing or walking.
  • People may become unconscious.
  • Those affected usually are not aware of the seizure going on. People may not remember or know what happened to them.
  • In some cases, people may sense that a seizure is about to occur. This special feeling is called aura. Afterwards, people may remember the aura, but not the seizure itself.
  • Most seizures only last a short time, the exception to this is called status epilepticus (a long seizure, lasting over five minutes)
  • Reflexes do not work while people are having a seizure; they may also stop breathing.
  • People are tired after a seizure. They may be confused.
  • People who suffer from epilepsy are not mentally ill.
  • The condition is very common, and has been studied a lot. There are drugs for many forms of epilepsy that make life better for those affected. Doctors only say someone has epilepsy, if that person has had at least two seizures, for which the immediate cause cannot be seen. There are also seizures which are not caused by epilepsy.

In most cases, epilepsy is caused by scars in the brain. Some forms of the condition are caused by genetic disorders, which may be passed on from the parents to the children. Very often, the actual cause for an epileptic seizure is lack of sleep, too much alcohol, or other things that cause stress.

Many countries in the world say there are special rules for people who have epilepsy. They need to be without a seizure for some time before they may drive a car. They also need to take drugs to treat their illness. In many countries, such people may not drive buses, taxis or trucks.


People having an epileptic seizure face a number of problems. The most common ones are:

  • They hurt themselves during the seizure. This includes broken bones, and wounds resulting from biting or hitting an object.
  • They produce an accident during the seizure. This includes falling off a ladder, car accidents, and drowning while swimming.
  • In some cases, people stop breathing. In such cases, the brain will be damaged, if the seizure lasts for a longer time, or there are multiple such seizures in a row.
  • During the seizure, neurotransmitters are released in the brain. If their concentration is too high, the brain will take damage.

Famous people with epilepsy


  1. Commission on Epidemiology and Prognosis, International League Against Epilepsy (1993). "Guidelines for epidemiologic studies on epilepsy. Commission on Epidemiology and Prognosis, International League Against Epilepsy". Epilepsia 34 (4): 592–6. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1157.1993.tb00433.x . PMID 8330566 .
  2. Blume W, Lüders H, Mizrahi E, Tassinari C, van Emde Boas W, Engel J (2001). "Glossary of descriptive terminology for ictal semiology: report of the ILAE task force on classification and terminology". Epilepsia 42 (9): 1212–8. doi:10.1046/j.1528-1157.2001.22001.x . PMID 11580774 .
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Epilepsy". Fact Sheets. World Health Organization. October 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  4. Thurman, DJ; Beghi, E; Begley, CE; Berg, AT; Buchhalter, JR; Ding, D; Hesdorffer, DC; Hauser, WA; Kazis, L; Kobau, R; Kroner, B; Labiner, D; Liow, K; Logroscino, G; Medina, MT; Newton, CR; Parko, K; Paschal, A; Preux, PM; Sander, JW; Selassie, A; Theodore, W; Tomson, T; Wiebe, S; ILAE Commission on, Epidemiology (September 2011). "Standards for epidemiologic studies and surveillance of epilepsy.". Epilepsia 52 Suppl 7: 2–26. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1167.2011.03121.x . PMID 21899536 .
  5. Brodie, MJ; Elder, AT, Kwan, P (November 2009). "Epilepsy in later life". Lancet neurology 8 (11): 1019–30. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(09)70240-6 . PMID 19800848 .
  6. Holmes, Thomas R. Browne, Gregory L. (2008). Handbook of epilepsy (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7817-7397-3 .
  7. Wyllie's treatment of epilepsy : principles and practice. (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2010. ISBN 978-1-58255-937-7 .
  8. Newton, CR (29 September 2012). "Epilepsy in poor regions of the world.". Lancet 380 (9848): 1193–201. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61381-6 . PMID 23021288 .
  9. Wilden, JA; Cohen-Gadol, AA (15 August 2012). "Evaluation of first nonfebrile seizures.". American family physician 86 (4): 334–40. PMID 22963022 .
  10. Berg, AT (2008). "Risk of recurrence after a first unprovoked seizure". Epilepsia 49 Suppl 1: 13–8. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01444.x . PMID 18184149 .