What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a medical condition of the brain that causes seizures. Seizures are sudden electrical changes in the brain that affect many different mental and physical functions. Epilepsy is also called a seizure disorder. When a person has two or more spontaneous seizures, he or she has epilepsy. During a seizure, nerve cells in the brain fire in an abnormal and uncontrolled way. Anything your brain can do normally, it can also during a seizure. A seizure may briefly alter a person’s consciousness, sensations, movements, or actions. A seizure may last seconds or a minute or two. Seizures lasting longer than five minutes are rare.

Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the United States after Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It is more common than cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease combined. One in three adults knows someone with this common medical condition. Despite real advances in diagnosis and treatment, we do not fully understand epilepsy. Epilepsy remains under-recognized and under-treated. Epilepsy may be symptomatic of an underlying brain disorder, such as seizures that develop after brain damage from a stroke (symptomatic epilepsy). Epilepsy may also develop without an obvious cause (idiopathic epilepsy). The absence of a clear cause may be frustrating for families but often predicts a better prognosis.

Who Does Epilepsy Affect?

Nearly one in 10 of us will have a seizure in our lifetime, but most of us will not develop epilepsy. Epilepsy affects almost three million Americans and 50 million people worldwide. Epilepsy is becoming more common among older adults. There are more than 570,000 adults over age 65 with the condition. These numbers are expected to climb as our population ages. Our returning veterans are also affected due to increased risk of epilepsy after traumatic brain injury.

For the average person with epilepsy, seizures comprise only a few moments of the entire lifespan. It is important to remember that many people with epilepsy live full and rich lives, and there are many options to control seizures. The tendency toward seizures may decrease over time. Many children with a history of epilepsy outgrow the condition by adulthood. The goal of epilepsy treatment is freedom from both seizures and side effects so each person can achieve his or her full potential.

While medical treatments help many with epilepsy, more than one million Americans continue to have seizures. Epilepsy can appear at any age but begins most often during childhood or seniorhood. In the Unites States alone, there are nearly 100,000 children under the age of 15 with uncontrolled seizures. Ongoing seizures can limit school achievement, employment prospects, and participation in all of life’s experiences. The Epilepsy Foundation of Delaware raises awareness about this common neurological disorder and advocates for those touched by epilepsy.

More information about epilepsy is available at www.epilepsyfoundation.org.

Please Note:

This information is presented as a service of the Epilepsy Foundation of Delaware. Medical knowledge changes rapidly and you should consult your medical practitioner for more recent or detailed information. This information is not medical advice. Do not change your medications as a result of this information without obtaining medical advice about your specific circumstance.