Epilepsy is a neurological disorder – a physical condition – which causes sudden bursts of electrical energy in the brain.
These electrical discharges produce sudden, brief seizures which vary from one person to another in frequency and form.

A seizure may appear as a brief stare, an unusual movement of the body or a change of awareness, or a convulsion. A seizure may last a few seconds or a few minutes. Epilepsy is not a disease, not a psychological disorder, and not contagious.


In approximately 60-75% of all cases, there is no known cause. Of the remaining cases, there are a number of frequently identified causes.

Identifiable Causes

• Brain injury to the fetus during pregnancy
• Birth trauma (i.e. lack of oxygen)
• Poisoning from substance abuse or environmental contaminants (i.e. lead poisoning)
• Aftermath of infection (i.e. meningitis)
• Head trauma (i.e. car accident, sports injury, shaken baby syndrome)
• Alteration in blood sugar (i.e. hypoglycemia)
• Other metabolic illness (i.e. hypocalcemia)
• Brain tumour
• Stroke

Is there a cure?

Although treatments are available to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, there is no known cure for epilepsy as yet.

The Brain

The brain is a highly complex and sensitive organ. It controls motor movements, sensations, thoughts, emotions, memory, and involuntary body processes including breathing and circulation.
There are many different types of seizures. Most are classified within 2 main categories: partial seizures and generalized seizures.

Partial Seizures

Partial seizures occur when the excessive electrical activity in the brain is limited to one area.
The two most common forms are simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures.
In a simple partial seizure, the person may experience a range of strange or unusual sensations, such as sudden jerky movements of one body part, distortions in sight or smell, a sudden sense of fear or anxiety, stomach discomfort, or dizziness. These sensations may also be known as a prodrome or aura. An aura is a simple partial seizure which can occur alone, or can be followed by a generalized seizure.
In a complex partial seizure, the person loses awareness as the seizure begins and appears dazed and confused. The person will exhibit meaningless behaviours such as random walking, mumbling, head turning, or pulling at clothing. These behaviours cannot be recalled by the person after the seizure.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures occur when the excessive electrical activity in the brain encompasses the entire brain, affecting the whole body.
The two most common forms are generalized absence seizures and tonic-clonic seizures.
During a generalized absence seizure, the person appears to be staring into space and his/her eyes may roll upwards. This kind of seizure is characterized by 5 to 15 second lapses of consciousness and, when it has ended, the person will not recall this lapse of consciousness.
Generalized absence seizures most often occur in childhood and disappear by adolescence. They are less prevalent in adulthood.
During a tonic-clonic seizure, the person will usually emit a short cry and fall to the floor. (This cry does not indicate pain.) The muscles will stiffen and the body extremities will jerk and twitch (convulse). Bladder control may be lost. Consciousness may be regained slowly.

Other seizure types include akinetic, atonic (drop attack), autonomic, catamenial, infantile spasms, musicogenic, myoclonic, nocturnal, photosensitive, prolonged, sensory, and visual, among others.
Some medical conditions may cause seizures.
These include febrile seizures (caused by high fever in children), withdrawal seizures, and seizures caused by poisoning, allergic reaction, infection, or an imbalance of body fluids or chemicals (low blood sugar).

These are not considered to be forms of epilepsy.

Sometimes seizures may go unnoticed, depending on their presentation, and sometimes seizures may be confused with other events, such as a stroke, which can also cause falls or migraines.
Persons who have lived with epilepsy for much of their lives may find that their seizures change as they age. The duration of their seizures may become longer or shorter; the intensity of their seizures may worsen or improve; seizure episodes may occur more or less frequently.
Seniors also demonstrate a high rate for newly-diagnosed cases of epilepsy.
Everyone has a 10% risk of experiencing a seizure at some time during their lifetime. A single seizure without recurrence is not considered to be epilepsy.

Postictal States

The ictal state is the time during which a seizure occurs. (ictus = stroke). Postictal states commonly follow both tonic-clonic and complex partial seizures. As a person regains consciousness after a seizure, s/he may experience fatigue, confusion and disorientation lasting minutes, hours or even days (or, rarely, longer). S/he may fall asleep or gradually become less confused until full consciousness is regained.


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