Epilepsy Center

What is epilepsy?

About 1% of all Americans have experienced a seizure during the course of their lives.  However, while the occurrence of a single seizure may be frightening, one seizure alone is not necessarily classified as having epilepsy.  So what exactly is epilepsy and how can it be defined?

What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain.  Epilepsy can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity and age.   Children make up 30% of all new epileptic diagnoses each year, but people over age 65 also are commonly diagnosed.  But what happens during an epileptic attack?

During an epileptic attack, the normal transmission of electrical signals sent out from nerve cells (neurons) is disrupted.  Disruptions may occur in one part of the brain, or in the entire brain.  Disruption of nerve cell transmission in only one part of the brain is called a partial, or focal, seizure.  A seizure that occurs in the entire brain is called a generalized seizure. 

Partial or focal seizures include:

●  Complex partial seizures

●  Simple partial seizures

Generalized seizures include:

●  Absence seizures (petit mal)

●  Atonic seizures

●  Myoclonic seizures.

●  Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal)

For most people diagnosed with epilepsy, the exact cause remains unknown.  However, scientists have linked epilepsy with injury to the brain (for example, brain trauma from a sport-related accident), illness (brain tumors, lead poisoning, meningitis and encephalitis), abnormal brain development, and family history.   

How you can know if you are experiencing an epileptic seizure?  Read on to learn more about symptoms of an epileptic seizure and the common signs of epilepsy.  We cover the signs and symptoms of epilepsy in the Epilepsy Symptoms section next.

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