Epilepsy is a disruption of brain function that results in a series of seizures or fits. It can affect anyone of any age, level of intelligence and ethnic group. Most types of epilepsy respond well to regular medication and many people become seizure-free. With medication and a sensible lifestyle, a full and active life is possible.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Epilepsy is not one condition. There are numerous epilepsy syndromes and each has its own symptoms, seizure types, causes, methods of diagnosis, outcomes and management. For this reason it’s important that your epilepsy syndrome be identified and the proper treatment determined in consultation with your GP.

Seizures can be convulsive or non-convulsive. Seizure types vary but the most common types are:

• tonic-clonic
• absence
• simple and complex partial

Convulsive seizures

Generalised tonic-clonic seizures are seizures that involve the whole brain. There is a loss of consciousness, the body stiffens and the limbs jerk. These seizures generally last one to three minutes, after which the person may wish to rest or sleep.

Non convulsive seizures

Absence seizures mostly affect children. These seizures also involve the whole brain and are associated with brief (up to 30 seconds) periods of loss of consciousness that may occur many times a day. Absence seizures are often mistaken for daydreaming or lack of concentration and can disrupt learning by creating gaps in information received.

Simple and complex partial seizures occur when the abnormal cell activity affects only part of the brain. These seizures can vary widely depending on which part of the brain is involved. The person may experience:

• stiffening or jerking of part of the body
• a loss or distorted awareness of surroundings
• unusual feelings, tastes or smells
• temporary speech impairment

The person may also be unresponsive, confused or use inappropriate behaviour.

Safety during a seizure

If seizures are likely to occur, it’s important to tell teachers, friends and employers that you have epilepsy, for their safety as well as your own. Being informed and knowing the appropriate first aid procedures mean they can help you.

Below is a guide of what to do in the case of complex partial seizures and to check when an ambulance should be called.

Absence seizures don’t usually require any form of assistance other than reassurance when the attack is finished.


• Move harmful objects away
• Put something soft under his/head and shoulders
• Don’t put anything in his/her mouth
• Don’t restrain unless his/her action is dangerous to others
• As soon as possible, roll the person on to his/her side to assist breathing
• After a seizure a person may be confused. Reassure them until they are fully aware of their surroundings.

Call an ambulance

• If the seizure lasts for more than five minutes
• Another seizure quickly follows
• If the person is injured

What treatment is there?

Most people with epilepsy will have their seizures controlled with one medication, It is essential that you take your medication as prescribed.

Modern epileptic medications have few side-effects: however if you’re experiencing any side- effects make sure you speak to your doctor. Drowsiness is the most common side-effect but is generally only a problem at the beginning of the treatment.

Some medicines may produce behaviour problems or affect learning in children.

Will epilepsy affect your lifestyle?

Generally people with epilepsy cope very well. By managing your lifestyle you can continue to lead a full and active life. Don’t limit your horizons, although certain situations may trigger seizures for some people. These are:

• Fatigue lack of sleep
• Emotional stress
• Excess alcohol
• Menstruation

While these situations may be difficult to avoid at times. A sensible approach will reduce your risk of seizures.

There may be some restrictions on your lifestyle suspension of your driving licence or a possible need for career review, combined with the discrimination or stigma still wrongly associated with epilepsy within the community. Acceptance is the key. Once you accept that your epilepsy is part of you, you will be able to move forward and take control of your life, rather than allowing the epilepsy to control you.

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