What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. It’s also called a seizure disorder. When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy.

A seizure happens when a brief, strong surge of electrical activity affects part or all of the brain.  1 in 10 people will have a single seizure in their lifetime.  1 in 100 people are currently living with epilepsy.  1 in 26 will be diagnosed with epilepsy during their lifetime.


In about 70% of the cases, the cause is unknown. Of the remaining 30%, the following are the most common causes:

•   Brain Tumor and/or Stroke
•   Traumatic Brain Injury – the more severe the injury, the greater risk of developing epilepsy
•   Poisoning – lead poisoning or substance abuse
•   Infection – viral encephalitis, lupus erythematosus, meningitis
•   Maternal Injury – infection or systemic illness that affects the developing brain of a fetus during pregnancy

Seizure Types

For more information on what seizures look like and how you should respond to a seizure, please click here for Online Materials, Brochures, and Videos.

•    Generalized Tonic Clonic also known as Grand Mal
•    Absence also known as Petit Mal
•    Complex Partial also known as psychomotor or temporal lobe
•    Atonic also known as drop seizures
•    Myoclonic
•    Infantile Spasms


Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy refers to the death of a person with epilepsy without warning and where no cause of death can be found.  Recent studies estimate the rate of SUDEP is about 1 per 1,000 people living with epilepsy each year.  In people with frequent Tonic Clonic seizures (convulsions) who are poorly controlled with medications, the rate may be 1 in 100 per year.

NonEpileptic Seizures (NES)

Nonepileptic seizures or events are diagnosed in 20-30% of patients seen at epilepsy centers for intractable seizures.  NES are attacks that may look like epileptic seizures but are not caused by abnormal brain electrical discharges.  They are a manifestation of psychological distress.  A physician may suspect NES when the seizures have unusual features such as type of movements, duration, triggers and frequency.  NES can pose a frustrating challenge in diagnosis and management.


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