What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is not just one condition, but a group of many different 'epilepsies' with one thing in common: a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain.

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What is epilepsy?

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Sarah Reid and her family

Anyone can develop epilepsy, at any time of life.

Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed after a person has had more than one seizure and not all seizures are due to epilepsy. Epilepsy can happen in people of all ages, races and social classes. Epilepsy is most commonly diagnosed in children and in people over 65. 

There are over half a million people with epilepsy in the UK, so around 1 in 100 people.

Other conditions that can look like epilepsy include fainting, or very low blood sugar in some people being treated for diabetes. On this page, when we use the term 'seizure' we mean epileptic seizure.

Causes of epilepsy

Different epilepsies are due to many different underlying causes. The causes can be complex, and sometimes hard to identify. A person might start having seizures because they have inherited epilepsy from one or both parents, a new change in a person's genes, a structural change in a person's brain or changes to the brain from certain conditions.

Just diagnosed

This booklet was created with the help of people with epilepsy, and includes their views and experiences,  and their quotes at the bottom of some of the pages.  It also includes information on topics people told us  they would have found helpful when they were diagnosed with epilepsy. 

Associated conditions

Seizure types

In March 2017 the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), a group of the world's leading epilepsy professionals, introduced a new method to group seizures. This gives doctors a more accurate way to describe a person's seizures, and helps them to prescribe the most appropriate treatments.

Epileptic seizures

There are many different types of epileptic seizure. Any of us could potentially have a single epileptic seizure at some point in our lives. This is not the same as having epilepsy, which is a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain. 

What is epilepsy leaflet

Want to know more?

Order or download our what is epilepsy? leaflet:

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Information produced: January 2019