Epilepsy

FAQs

How common is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is far more common than thought. One in every two hundred people and one in twenty people have a seizure at some point in their lives.

Is epilepsy fatal?

Seizures are usually not life-threatening in themselves; however, the consequences of seizing (e.g. while driving or swimming) may be fatal. In rare cases, epilepsy itself can cause death if prolonged repeated seizures are not treated properly.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is a sudden "electrical storm" in the brain: an uncontrolled burst of electrical and chemical activity spreads rapidly between the nerve cells. This can produce different symptoms, from the person "blanking out" for a few seconds, to full-blown convulsions.

What should I do if someone has a seizure?

Do: Insert an oral airway, padded tongue blade or other soft object between the teeth at the onset of the seizure, if you have experience in doing this. Remove objects near the person that may cause injury. Put a pillow under the head if it's on a hard surface. Turn the person onto one side. Call emergency medical services if the seizure continues beyond a few minutes or if consciousness is not regained between seizures. Don't: Try to force a hard object between the teeth once the jaws are closed. Restrain the person's movements.

Are epileptic people brain-damaged?

The tendency to have seizures is distinct from mental retardation or low intelligence. Between seizures, most epileptics have normal brain function.

How is epilepsy treated?

Modern treatment is highly effective, and usually takes the form of anti-epileptic medication, and surgery in certain intractable cases. Treatment of known causative conditions will often reduce or resolve seizures.

What causes epilepsy?

The cause of epilepsy is often not known. Known causes include infections such as meningitis, strokes, head injury, brain surgery, drug and alcohol abuse, brain tumours and fever.

What triggers a seizure?

Different factors may trigger seizures in different people with epilepsy. Such factors include stress, sleep deprivation, a change in diet or medication, alcohol, certain activities or environmental factors such as flashing lights, and menstruation and pregnancy in women. Sometimes it is not known what triggers a seizure.

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