What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures. A seizure is a disruption of the electrical communication between neurons. This can affect a variety of mental and physical functions. It’s also called a seizure disorder. When a person has two or more 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. One in 10 adults will have a seizure sometime during their life and 1 in 26 will be diagnosed with epilepsy during their lifetime, making epilepsy the fourth most common neurological condition. 

Learn More: 

Types of Seizures

Seizure First Aid

Medications

Other Treatments

Research

Additional Information

COVID-19 and Epilepsy

 

Page Sections

Causes

Manage Your Epilepsy 

Community Trainings

Downloads

Causes
  • Causes of epilepsy vary by age of the person. Some people with no clear cause of epilepsy may have a genetic cause. But what’s true for every age is that the cause is unknown for about half of everyone with epilepsy.

  • Some people with no known cause of epilepsy may have a genetic form of epilepsy. One or more genes may cause the epilepsy or epilepsy may be caused by the way some genes work in the brain. The relationship between genes and seizures can be very complex and genetic testing is not available yet for many forms of epilepsy.

  • About 3 out of 10 people have a change in the structure of their brains that causes the electrical storms of seizures.

  • Some young children may be born with a structural change in an area of the brain that gives rise to seizures.

  • About 3 out of 10 children with autism spectrum disorder may also have seizures. The exact cause and relationship is still not clear.

  • Infections of the brain are also common causes of epilepsy. The initial infections are treated with medication, but the infection can leave scarring on the brain that causes seizures at a later time.

  • People of all ages can have head injuries, though severe head injuries happen most often in young adults.

  • In middle age, strokes, tumors and injuries are more frequent.

  • In people over 65, stroke is the most common cause of new onset seizures. Other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions that affect brain function can also cause seizures.
Common Causes of Seizures by Age

In Newborns

  • Brain malformations
  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Low levels of blood sugar, blood calcium, blood magnesium or other eletrolyte problems
  • Inborn errors of metabolism
  • Intracranial hemorrhage
  • Maternal drug use

In Children & Adults

  • Congenital conditions (Down’s syndrome; Angelman’s syndrome; tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis)
  • Genetic factors
  • Progressive brain disease (rare)
  • Head trauma

In Infants and Children

  • Fever (febrile seizures)
  • Brain tumor (rarely)
  • Infections

In Seniors

  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Trauma
Treatment Options

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing epilepsy and treating seizures successfully requires a team effort between you, your family and your health care team. It is important to consult with a neurologist who is trained to care for people with neurological disorders if you have epilepsy or seizures.

It may be easy to diagnose and control seizures and epilepsy in some people. For others, diagnosis may be difficult. An epileptologist is key to helping people when seizures and epilepsy are difficult to diagnose, or the person is not responding to standard therapy (medication).

Contact us for help finding a neurologist or epileptologist at 303-377-9774 or info@epilepsycolorado.org

Additional Information

The National Epilepsy Foundation has comprehensive resources on treatment options if you’d like to explore further:

· Not every person will reach the goal of “No Seizures, No Side Effects” right now, but research and specialty care help more people achieve it each year. 

· While seizure medicines are the mainstay of epilepsy treatment, there are other approaches to think about too, including surgery neurostimulation devices, dietary therapy, complementary health approaches and clinical trials.  

Learn the basics to get started:

  • What’s first?
  • What You Need to Do If First Medicine Doesn’t Work
  • When Medicines Do Not Work

If your seizures are difficult to control, meaning you continue to have seizures after one year or after two anti-seizure medications have been tried, we recommend seeking more specialized care. · Epilepsy centers provide a team approach to caring for people with seizures and epilepsy. Testing is available to diagnose whether a person has seizures and the type of epilepsy they may have. Epilepsy experts (called epileptologists) can help explore all treatment options.

Early Death and SUDEP

Most people with epilepsy live a full and healthy life. However, you should be aware that people can die from epilepsy.

Some people with epilepsy may lose their lives from accidents, suicide, or the underlying cause of their condition, such as brain tumors or infections.

Another rare cause of epilepsy related death is New-onset refractory status epilepticus (NORSE), which is defined as refractory status epilepticus without an obvious cause after initial investigations. · Yet, the leading cause of epilepsy-related death is believed to be sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, also known as SUDEP.

Sudden Unexpected 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.

While this information may be scary to read, it’s not meant to be. We are committed to helping people be aware of the seriousness of epilepsy and what they can do to prevent complications and death. Sometimes death from epilepsy occurs suddenly and can’t be prevented. In other situations, there may be some things people can do to avoid or modify situations and risks.

People who continue to have seizures are at greater risk of a number of complications, which is why preventing seizures and other problems is so important. The most serious complications are injuries and dying from seizures. This site gives frank information about SUDEP.

Download our “Knowledge is Power” Fact Sheet

Managing Your Epilepsy

Participating in your treatment and being an advocate for yourself can impact your results. We encourage you to do a few simple things to effectively participate and advocate for yourself:

  • Take your medicine on time, every day, exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • See a specialist if your seizures are not controlled.
  • Keep a health diary of seizures, test results, medications and questions for your doctor. Track your seizures at SeizureTracker.com.
  • Know your seizure triggers – for many people, sleep deprivation or stress can trigger seizure activity.
  • Create and share your own seizure action plan – get your doctor’s input and share this with your employer, school, family and friends. 
  • Ensure you’re taking care of your overall health and wellness. Epilepsy.com offers ways to learn critical information, skills and resources that will help you manage seizures and epilepsy more easily.

We know that living with epilepsy is more than just knowing your type of seizures or what medicine to take. People must learn how to respond to seizures in a variety of situations — and be prepared to handle whatever comes your way. Living with seizures also means learning how to handle the way epilepsy affects your life including your social, emotional and physical well-being.

The best way to manage your seizures is to take a practical approach emphasizing preparation, prevention, and teamwork.

Community Trainings

Want to learn more? The Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado provides a variety of free trainings and education to the community.

Epilepsy 101

We can provide education about seizures and seizure first aid in any setting. If you find that you need help explaining your seizures or want support when talking about epilepsy, we are here to help.

Seizure Safe Schools These trainings cover seizure recognition, first aid, and treatment options. Also included is a discussion on the impact seizures and epilepsy can have on students academically, and the importance of implementing a seizure action plan in the school setting.

First Responder Trainings

This updated training, Emergency Medical Responders: From Seizure First Aid to Seizure Emergencies, aims to increase EMS ability to recognize and respond to people during different types of seizures and during status epilepticus, a seizure emergency.

Law Enforcement & Corrections Trainings

Law enforcement and correctional officers may encounter people acting confused, having difficulty talking or understanding, or behaving inappropriately. There may be many causes of these symptoms, including seizures and epilepsy. Knowing how to recognize and respond to a person during a seizure is critical for all law enforcement officers. They also need to protect the rights of an individual having a seizure and understand the importance of consistent access to seizure medicines for persons with epilepsy.

Seizure Safety School

We partner with the Children’s Hospital Colorado neurology department to offer this class about epilepsy, seizure first aid and safety practices. Adults, children and families may attend at no cost. Check our calendar for upcoming dates.

Beyond Medication

Our free Beyond Medication forums bring the epilepsy community together in various locations across Colorado on a quarterly basis. This is an opportunity to learn more about epilepsy treatments, and connect with others in the community who are diagnosed with epilepsy. Check our calendar for upcoming dates.

Seniors

Seniors & Seizures Training is a program designed to provide caregivers and staff of adult day care centers, senior centers, long-term facilities, nursing homes, and other senior-serving organizations with strategies to better recognize and respond to seizures among older adults.