What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by sudden brief changes in the brain’s electrical balance. When there are excess electrical discharges in the brain, seizures occur. Seizures can alter awareness, physical movements, consciousness or actions. Seizures generally last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Epilepsy is often called a “seizure disorder.” Both terms are used to describe recurring seizures.

Epilepsy is not a disease, mental illness or a sign of low intelligence. It is not contagious. Epilepsy is generally a chronic and/or lifelong condition.

When epilepsy develops

A person could have a seizure at any time during his or her life. In fact, it is estimated that one in 10 people will have a seizure during his or her lifetime. Approximately one to two percent of the population has epilepsy/seizure disorders. About one-fifth of the 200,000 cases diagnosed each year occur in childhood. However, senior citizens are increasingly diagnosed with epilepsy/seizure disorders.


The most common treatment for epilepsy/seizure disorders is antiepileptic medications. Many people with epilepsy are able to control their seizures with medications. However, the side effects of medications can be severe, and some people with epilepsy do not respond well to medications and have little or no control of seizures. In some individuals, surgery can also be used to treat epilepsy/seizure disorders.