— Not an actual physician

Facts About Epilepsy

In this article, you’ll find a few common questions and answers about epilepsy. 

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes unusual brain activity, commonly known as a seizure. It can also result in an alteration of awareness and abnormal bodily sensations. Epilepsy can affect anyone across all races, ethnicities, sexes, and ages. An epilepsy diagnosis is usually given after a person has two unprovoked seizures.1

What is a seizure?

A seizure is characterized by a change in brain activity. It can present itself in different forms such as a blank stare, uncontrollable shaking, or lack of awareness, all of which can last seconds to a few minutes. There are many different types of seizures a person with epilepsy can exhibit, all of which are categorized into three main groups: generalized, focal, and unknown.

 A generalized seizure will affect both sides of the brain while a focal seizure will affect only one specific area. A seizure is classified as unknown if it goes unwitnessed either at the beginning or throughout its entirety. If realized and investigated, an unknown seizure may later be recognized as generalized or focal.2,3

How common is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is more common than most realize. It’s the fourth most common neurological condition, and affects more than 65 million people around the world. In the United States alone, 1 in 100 people have had an unprovoked seizure, often leading to an epilepsy diagnosis.4 It’s found in all age groups; however, children and seniors have the highest rates of new diagnoses. Seizures are also common in people with a traumatic brain injury, which can result in post-traumatic epilepsy.4

Genetics can often play a role in an epilepsy diagnosis. While anyone can be diagnosed, there are several genetic factors that determine if a person is more likely to have the disorder. If someone exhibits generalized seizures, it’s likely that their condition is hereditary. Focal seizures can also be hereditary, however the chances are not as high. 

While it’s possible that a child may inherit the disorder from a parent, physicians suggest that having epilepsy is no reason to fear having children since the chance of it being passed down is low. Children with two epileptic parents have a much higher chance of being diagnosed with it sometime during life.5

Physicians you may encounter along your epilepsy treatment journey

There are multiple types of doctors along the treatment pathway for epilepsy; because each patient is unique, it’s important to find the right type of doctor for your specific type of epilepsy.

Epilepsy can be difficult to diagnose, as many signs and symptoms can be similar to other neurological conditions. The first step to diagnosis is to visit your general doctor to investigate alternative causes for your symptoms. If they suspect you have epilepsy, they will refer you to a neurologist.

General neurologists are special doctors that focus on brain conditions and will be able to diagnose your epilepsy and recommend treatment options. If seizures continue despite treatment, patients should seek the help of an epileptologist: these are neurologists with specialty training in treating epilepsy and will have a better understanding of complex treatment options, including surgery. Epileptologists are part of a specialized epilepsy patient care team at a specialized Epilepsy Center. If your epileptologist determines you are a candidate for epilepsy surgery, they will work closely with a neurosurgeon to develop your surgical treatment plan.

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  1. Shafer, P. (2013, Dec). About Epilepsy: The Basics. Epilepsy Foundation. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics
  2. (2020, Sep 30). Frequently Asked Questions About Epilepsy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/about/faq.htm#What%20is%20epilepsy?%20What%20is%20a%20seizure?
  3. Kiriakopoulos, E. and Shafer, P. (2017, Mar). Types of Seizures. Epilepsy Foundation. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures
  4. Schachter, S. and Shafer, P. (2013, Jul). Who Gets Epilepsy? Epilepsy Foundation. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/who-gets-epilepsy
  5. Schachter, S. and Shafer, P. (2013, Jul). Is Epilepsy Inherited? Epilepsy Foundation. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/epilepsy-inherited

Content reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Jiyeoun Yoo, MD, FAES, FACNS 

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