Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that affects thousands of adults and children.

A seizure is when the brain has a burst of abnormal electrical signals over a short period of time. These signals cause the body and brain to react in certain ways.

You may be diagnosed with epilepsy if you have had two or more seizures.


Causes of epilepsy include brain damage from a stroke, tumor, infection, or other problem. Sometimes, there is a problem in the brain that has been there since birth. It can run in families. In many cases, the cause of epilepsy is not known.

There are two main types of seizures: generalized seizures, and partial or focal seizures. A generalized seizure affects most of the brain. There are different kinds of generalized seizures.

The second main type of seizure is called a partial or focal seizure. Unlike a generalized seizure, a partial seizure happens in just one part of the brain.

The most common type of seizure is a generalized seizure called a tonic-clonic seizure. It is also known as a grand mal seizure. The seizure then starts with a stiffening of the body. This is the tonic phase. You may stop breathing for a short time. The clonic phase then occurs when the body makes jerking movements.  You may lose bladder or bowel control.

Depending on the type, a seizure may last a few seconds or a few minutes. After a seizure, You may be very tired and confused. You may have a headache or want to sleep. You may feel back to normal in a few minutes, or need hours to recover. If a seizure causes you to fall, this may result in injuries that need to be treated.


If you have a seizure, you may have a brain scan or a brain wave study called an electroencephalogram, or E-E-G.


The main treatment for epilepsy is anti-seizure medication. If you are taking anti-seizure medications, do not take any other medications, herbs, or supplements without talking with your healthcare provider. Some of these therapies can interact with anti-seizure medication and may increase your chance of having a seizure.

If seizure symptoms can’t be stopped with anti-seizure drugs or other therapy, this is called intractable epilepsy. In some cases, the symptoms may not be real seizures, but seizure-like episodes. You may need more tests.

In some people, surgery may also be an option to help prevent seizures.

Seizure Safety

If you have epilepsy, teach your family and friends about your disorder. Help them learn  what to do if you have a seizure. If you feel a seizure coming on, tell someone near you and lie down. If you live alone, have someone come to stay with you until your epilepsy is under control.

If you are with someone having a seizure, stay calm. Do not try to hold the person down. If possible, roll them gently onto their side. Remove anything nearby that could cause injury. During a seizure it may not be possible or necessary to do CPR.  The person may not breathe, and might turn blue, but you may have to wait until the seizure is over to see if CPR is needed.

A person can’t swallow his or her tongue, but may bite it. Do not try to put something in a person’s mouth if they’re having a seizure.

Get medical help, especially if the person becomes injured, has trouble breathing after the seizure, or does not become conscious shortly after the seizure. If the person has two or more seizures in a row, call 911. This is a medical emergency.

Things to Remember

There are many different kinds of seizures.

If you have seizures, teach your friends and family about your condition and what you want them to do if you have a seizure. Wear a seizure ID bracelet.

If a person is having a seizure, do not try to restrain them or put anything in their mouth.

What We Have Learned

  1. A person will recover from a seizure in a few minutes. True or false?
    The answer is false. It can take several minutes or even hours to fully recover from a seizure. It depends on the type of seizure.

  2. Not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy. True or false?
    The answer is true. A person who has had two or more seizures is usually diagnosed with epilepsy.

  3. If you have surgery for seizures, you will not need to take anti-seizure medication. True or false? The answer is false. You may still need to take medication. But you may be able to take less than before surgery.