In the UK, there are over 600,000 people with epilepsy.
Any one of us can have a one-off epileptic seizure. But if you have epilepsy, it means you have had more than one epileptic seizure. And you could have some more in the future.
Around five people in every 100 will have an epileptic seizure at some time in their life. Out of these five people, around four will go on to develop epilepsy
There are many types of epilepsy. Some types of epilepsy start when you are very young, and some in later life. Some types last for a short time and other types can last for the whole of your life.
The causes of epilepsy
In around six out of 10 people, doctors don’t know the cause of their epilepsy. For many of these people, it is just part of how they are made that makes them more likely to have a seizure.
Some people do have a cause for their epilepsy. One cause can be brain damage. There are a number of things that can cause brain damage. These include:
- a difficult birth
- a brain infection, such as meningitis
- a stroke
- a serious brain injury.
There doesn’t have to be damage to your brain for you to have epilepsy. You could have a medical condition in which it is quite common to also have epilepsy. Some of these conditions are tuberous sclerosis and cerebral palsy. In some people with a learning disability, the cause of their learning disability can also cause their epilepsy.
When epilepsy begins in later life, it’s more usual for doctors to find a cause. For example, you may be recovering from a stroke . Or, you may have had an accident or illness at some time in your life that left some scarring on your brain.
About epileptic seizures
Electrical activity is happening in our brain all the time. A seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. In this information this intense electrical activity is called ‘epileptic activity’.
There are many different types of seizure. They can be classed by where in the brain the epileptic activity starts.
Focal (partial) seizures
In these seizures, the epileptic activity starts in just a part of your brain. You may stay alert in this type of seizure. Or you may not know what is going on around you. Parts of your body may move and you can’t stop it. Or you may have unusual sensations or feelings. Sometimes, other people may not be aware that you are having a seizure.
Focal seizures can be very brief or last for minutes. Sometimes, epileptic activity starts as a focal seizure, spreads to the rest of your brain and becomes a generalised seizure.
These seizures involve epileptic activity in both halves of your brain. You lose consciousness during this type of seizure, although sometimes it can be so brief that no one notices. Sometimes it can last for many minutes. The muscles in your body may stiffen and/or jerk. You may fall down.
Things that trigger seizures
Some things make seizures more likely for some people with epilepsy. These are often referred to as ‘triggers’. Triggers are things like stress, not sleeping well and drinking too much alcohol. Some people say they have more seizures if they miss meals. Not taking your epilepsy medicine is another common trigger. A very small number of people with epilepsy have seizures triggered by lights that flash or flicker.
Avoiding triggers lowers the risk of having a seizure.