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FAQs About Epilepsy

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a medical condition that causes a person to have recurring seizures. These seizures are caused by excessive discharges of electrical impulses in the brain.

There are more than 40 different types of seizures. Seizures can be convulsive or non-convulsive. For example, partial seizures may involve the person being in a trance-like state, experiencing altered sensations, having uncontrolled movements, or being unable to speak. Generalized seizures, such as tonic-clonic seizures (previously called grand mal) can cause a complete loss of consciousness and shaking of the entire body.

Seizures can vary in frequency and severity. In some people with epilepsy, seizures happen only occasionally; for others, it may happen up to hundreds of times a day.

More Information:
Epilepsy Fact Sheet
Seizure Types and First Aid 

How many people have epilepsy?

Epilepsy is far more common that most people realize. It is more common than Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Stomach Cancer, and Down's Syndrome. About 40,000 people in BC and 300,000 in Canada have epilepsy. About 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy.

Anyone can develop epilepsy at any age. In most situations the condition is lifelong. 

According to the World Health Organization, “epilepsy is the most common serious brain disorder worldwide with no age, racial, social class, national, nor geographic boundaries.”

What should you do when someone is having a seizure?

1 in 12 people will have at least one seizure in their lifetime. Knowing proper seizure first aid will greatly help someone having a seizure. It may even save their life. Here are things you can do:

1. Stay calm 

2. Protect the person from injury 
    - cushion their head 
    - move objects out of their way 
    - loosen anything tight around their neck 
    - remove their glasses 

3. As soon as possible, gently turn the person onto their side 

4. Stay with the individual until consciousness is fully regained 

5. Be reassuring and comforting afterwards 

Never put anything in a person’s mouth during a seizure. Doing so may break their teeth or block their airway. A person cannot swallow their tongue during a seizure. 

Do not restrain or hold the person down during a seizure. 

An ambulance should be called if a seizure lasts for more than five minutes, for repeated seizures, for a first time seizure – no known history, or if a person is injured, pregnant, or has diabetes.

Many seizure types such as absence seizures or complex partial seizures involve relatively brief episodes of unresponsiveness. In these instances stay with the person, move objects out of their way, guide them away from danger, and repeat any information they may have missed.  After the seizure, talk gently to comfort and reassure the person. 

More information:

First Aid Poster
Seizure Types and First Aid


What causes epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal activities of the nerve cells in the brain (the neurons) can lead to seizures.

However about 70% of cases of epilepsy have no known cause. Only about 30% of cases of epilepsy can be linked to a known cause.

Known causes include:

  • Brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Infections that damage the brain (such as meningitis or encephalitis)
  • Brain tumors
  • Abnormalities in the brain development

Potential causes are thought to include:

  • Genetic disorders
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Gene mutations
  • Cell membrane abnormalities

There is no cure for epilepsy. Treatments such as medications can control seizures in many people, but about one third of people with epilepsy will still have seizures. This highlights the need for more epilepsy research for effective treatments and a cure.


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