Epilepsy FAQ

What causes epileptic seizures?

Epileptic seizures are due to an abnormal excessive or synchronous activity of the neurons in the brain. This abnormal electrical activity in the brain can produce different symptoms, such as loss of awareness, unusual behavior, movements or sensations.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain characterized by a predisposition for recurrent unprovoked seizures. Although approximately 4 percent of the population will have an epileptic seizure in their lifetime, not all of them will develop epilepsy. A person is diagnosed with epilepsy after two unprovoked seizures occurring >24 hours apart or after one unprovoked seizure and a probability of further seizures of >60 percent. This risk is assessed after a thorough medical evaluation.

What are non-epileptic seizures?

Non-epileptic seizures, are different from epileptic seizures because they are not caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Since the word seizure can be misleading, a better term for non-epileptic seizures is non-epileptic events. There are two main types of non-epileptic events, organic and psychogenic. Organic non-epileptic events are due to a physical cause, such as low blood sugar levels, low blood pressure, sleep or movement disorders. Psychogenic seizures are caused by subconscious mental or emotional distress.

Can you have non-epileptic events and epilepsy?

Approximately 5 percent of patients diagnosed with epilepsy also have non-epileptic events.

What is SUDEP?

SUDEP stands for Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy. Individuals with frequent and/or tonic-clonic seizures are at a greater risk of SUDEP. Other risk factors that can increase the likelihood of SUDEP include drinking alcohol, missing doses of medication, longstanding uncontrolled epilepsy, and seizures beginning at a young age.

What is refractory epilepsy?

An individual is diagnosed with refractory epilepsy when trials of adequate medication at proper doses can no longer control their seizures. Treatment for refractory epilepsy can include surgery, a different combination of drugs, a change in diet, or even an implanted device under the skin that sends electrical signals to the brain or to one particular nerve to reduce the amount of seizures.

What is intractable epilepsy?

Intractable epilepsy is another term used for refractory epilepsy. This occurs when an individual’s epilepsy becomes drug resistant.

What is status epilepticus?

Status epilepticus occurs when an individual experiences a seizure that is abnormally prolonged or when someone has more than one seizure without recovery between them. The two main types of status epilepticus are convulsive and nonconvulsive. A convulsive seizure becomes convulsive status epilepticus when it lasts five minutes or longer. A non-convulsive seizure usually becomes status epilepticus when it lasts 10 minutes or longer.

How long do seizures last?

Most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes. A convulsive seizure that lasts five minutes or longer is considered convulsive status epilepticus and should be treated as a medical emergency.

What are the major types of seizures?

The two major types of seizures are focal and generalized. Focal seizures are caused by an abnormal electrical activity in a localized area of the brain. Generalized seizures arise from both sides of the brain at the same time.

Who treats me?

While an initial diagnosis may come from a primary care physician, it is advised that a parent/guardian seek the help of a pediatric neurologist for their child. If his or her seizures are challenging to diagnose or they are not responding to standard treatment, an epileptologist should be consulted. Epileptologists are neurologists that have specialized in the care of epilepsy.

Will I outgrow it?

Many individuals with epilepsy require lifelong treatment, however, for some people the seizures can go away over time. This is more likely if they are diagnosed in childhood, have successfully controlled their seizures through medication, or if surgery is performed to remove the part of the brain where the seizures originate.