Questions parents & carers often ask

What is Epilepsy?

25 February 2009
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Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurrent seizures. Recurrent is generally defined as two or more episodes. As many as 1 in 20 people will have a single isolated seizure at some point in their lives whereas 1 in 200 will subsequently be diagnosed with epilepsy. In children the rates are 1 in 100 having epilepsy. Of those diagnosed with epilepsy throughout the lifespan an estimated 30% have first seizures in the preschool years with 17% of those being in the first two years of life alone. So seizures are commonplace events in the early childhood years.

A seizure is a brief burst of excessive electrical activity within the brain which causes a range of symptoms which may be described as seizures. How the seizures are described depends on where they happen in the brain and how and whether they spread. There are two broad categories of seizure generalized and partial.

Generalised seizures affect the entire brain and consciousness is lost. Common forms are absences (previously known as petit mal) and tonic clonic (previously known as grand mal).Partial (focal) seizures affect localised areas of the brain. Symptoms vary and consciousness may be lost to a greater or lesser degree. Simple partial seizures occur when consciousness is retained (such as an aura or warning). Complex partial seizures involve confused behaviour , automatic behaviours , and memory being affected.

Seizure threshold: Describes the point at which a person can be triggered into having a seizure. Every person has a seizure threshold. For most people it is said to be "high" and therefore they are unlikely to experience seizures. For people with epilepsy it is "low" and they are more easily triggered in to having seizures.

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