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Epilepsy Advocate
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About Epilepsy

What you need to know

When it comes to epilepsy, knowledge is power. Whether you’ve had epilepsy for years or you are newly diagnosed, the more you know, the more you can do to control epilepsy and live life on your terms.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is the result of changes in the normal electrical activity in the brain. This causes different symptoms, depending on the location of the seizure and how it spreads. It can last a few seconds or several minutes. There are many types of seizures, with symptoms ranging from rapid blinking and staring to loss of consciousness, falls to the ground, and jerking of the muscles.

Who gets epilepsy?

People with epilepsy experience repeated seizures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2.7 million people in the United States are affected by epilepsy. A person is diagnosed with epilepsy only after he or she has experienced two or more seizures that can't be explained by other medical conditions like fever or withdrawal.

What is the difference between seizures and epilepsy?

Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy. Having a single seizure does not necessarily mean a person has epilepsy.

What causes epilepsy?

For some people, there is a clear cause, such as a birth defect or brain injury. But a single cause of epilepsy cannot be found for half of all people with epilepsy. This is sometimes called "idiopathic epilepsy"–which just means that we don't know the reason.

The different causes of epilepsy usually happen at different times of life.

  • A birth defect or brain injury during pregnancy or after birth is likely to lead to seizures in childhood
  • Strokes, heart attacks, and other conditions that deprive the brain of oxygen also can cause epilepsy, including approximately one in three cases among elderly people
  • A head injury can lead to a seizure disorder at any age
  • Epilepsy can also develop as a result of brain damage from another disorder. Connections in the brain may be changed by brain tumors, alcoholism, or Alzheimer's disease
  • Meningitis, AIDS, viral encephalitis, and other infectious diseases can cause fluid to build up in the brain, leading to changes that make seizures more likely

What causes a seizure?

Many things that cause seizures are common parts of everyday life. These include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Hormone changes (such as those that occur during a woman's menstrual cycle)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Overdoses of medicine or exposure to other drugs
  • Exposure to lead, carbon monoxide, or other poisons
  • Flashing lights

Are there treatments for epilepsy?

There are multiple treatments available that help to reduce the number of seizures a person has. The goal of treatment is to become seizure free, and people with epilepsy work closely with neurologists to find the right medication or combination of medications that will help them achieve better seizure control.

Which doctors treat epilepsy?

Neurologists, pediatric neurologists, pediatricians, neurosurgeons, internists, and family physicians all provide treatment for epilepsy.

A neurologist is a physician who specializes in diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. A neurologist who specializes in the treatment of epilepsy is an epileptologist.

People whose seizures are difficult to control have many options and may seek treatment in large hospitals, medical centers, neurological clinics at universities, and from specialists in private practice.