What is epilepsy?

“Epilepsy is a complex, long-term condition that can affect individuals in very different ways.” –Epilepsy Action 2010.

Epilepsy is –

  • Likely to be diagnosed in childhood or later life.
  • Very common – roughly 1 in 100 people have epilepsy.
  • Often well controlled with medication - approximately 70% of patients will take medication that successfully controls their seizures.
  • A seizure is a symptom of epilepsy.
  • In the event of a seizure, there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity, an electrical misfire, like an ‘electrical storm’.
  • This epileptic activity causes temporary disruptions to the brains normal processes, leading to a variety of seizures.
  • Depending on where in the brain this electrical disturbance has happened, will depend on the type of seizure you have.

Types of seizures

What are focal seizures?
This is where only one or several parts of the brain are affected.

Focal aware seizure - also called ‘auras’ or ‘warnings’ (previously known as simple partial seizures):

  • No loss of consciousness.
  • A person may be able to explain the sensation they feel.
  • Can include déjà vu, butterflies in stomach, odd taste or smell.

Focal seizure with impaired awareness (previously known as complex partial seizures):

  • May follow a focal aware seizure.
  • No recollection of the actions they may have carried out.
  • Response not normal if spoken to.
  • A person may demonstrate ‘automatisms’ such as picking at clothes, lip-smacking or chewing without being aware of this.

Focal seizures may spread in the brain and develop into a tonic-clonic seizure (see below).

What are generalised seizures?
A generalised seizure involves abnormal electrical activity in all or most of the brain. This can occur from the start of the seizure, or result from the spread of a focal seizure.

Typical generalised absence (previously known as petit mal seizures):

  • Can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness.
  • The person appears blank/vacant.
  • The person may not fall, stiffen or jerk.

Generalised myoclonic seizures:

  • The person appears as if something ‘made them jump.’
  • These seizures can occur singularly or repetitively.
  • They usually affect the upper body, head and/or arm(s).

Generalised atonic seizures (previously known as drop attacks or akinetic seizures):

  • The person becomes completely floppy and falls if standing.
  • They usually fall forwards.
  • These seizures can cause severe injury.
  • This type of seizure is often seen in people with learning disability and in combination with other seizure types.

Generalised tonic seizures:

  • Causes a loss of consciousness.
  • The person’s body stiffens.
  • They will often recover quickly.
  • These seizures can cause injury.
  • This type of seizure is often seen in people with learning disability and in combination with other seizure types.

Generalised tonic-clonic seizures (previously known as grand mal seizures):

  • At the beginning of the seizure the person may cry/shout out as air is blown out from their lungs.
  • The person will lose consciousness.
  • Body will stiffen, they will fall if standing.
  • Lips may turn blue, saliva may run from their mouth and they might bite their tongue.
  • Rhythmical jerking of the limbs.
  • The person may make grunting noises.
  • Usually lasts no longer than 3 minutes, but id followed by a slow recovery period lasting minutes to hours.
  • In this recovery period the person may sleep, and will usually be confused.



Additional Information

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