Frequently Asked Questions

Is epilepsy a rare disorder?

Around 50 million people in the world have epilepsy, or about 1% of the population. It is the most common serious neurological condition.

Do seizures cause brain damage?

Single brief seizures do not cause brain damage. Although tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures, lasting longer than 20 minutes may injure the brain, there is no evidence that shorter seizures, lasting less than 20 minutes, cause permanent injury to the brain.

Is epilepsy inherited?

Most cases of epilepsy are not inherited, although some types have a genetic basis. Most of these types are easily controlled with medication. Epilepsy syndromes with a genetic basis: Primary Generalized Epilepsies, Benign Rolandic Epilepsy, Nocturnal Frontal Lobe Epilepsy, Familial Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Benign Familial Neonatal Seizures and Benign Familial Infantile Spasms.

Are people with epilepsy also mentally handicapped?

Many people mistakenly believe that people with epilepsy are also mentally handicapped. In the large majority of cases, this is not true. Like any other group of people, people with epilepsy have a range of intellectual abilities. Some are brilliant and some score below average on intelligence tests, but most are somewhere in the middle. Most have normal intelligence and lead productive lives. There are some people, however, who have epilepsy associated with brain injuries that cause neurological impairments, including mental handicap. Please click here for more on Epilepsy and Developmental Disabilities.

Are people with epilepsy violent or crazy?

The belief that people with epilepsy are violent is an unfortunate image that is both wrong and destructive. People with epilepsy have no greater tendency toward irritability and aggressive behaviors than do other people. Many features of seizures and their immediate aftereffects can be easily misunderstood as "crazy" or "violent" behavior. Unfortunately, police officers and even medical personnel may confuse seizure-related behaviors with other problems. However, these behaviors merely represent semiconscious or confused actions resulting from the seizure. During seizures, some persons may not respond to questions, may speak gibberish, undress, repeat a word or phrase, crumple important papers, or may appear frightened and scream. Some persons are confused immediately after a seizure, and if they are restrained or prevented from moving about, they can become agitated and combative.

Is epilepsy a life-long disorder?

Most persons with epilepsy have seizures and require medication for only a small portion of their lives. Most childhood forms of epilepsy are outgrown by adulthood. For many forms of epilepsy in children and adults, when the person has been free of seizures for 2 to 4 years, medications can often be slowly withdrawn and discontinued under a doctor's supervision. However, there are some types of epilepsy that require lifelong treatment with anti-epileptic medications. Be sure to ask your neurologist what specific type of epilepsy you have.

Are there other treatments for epilepsy besides medication?

Yes, there are other non-drug treatments including the Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS), surgery, dietary therapies such as the ketogenic diet, modified Atkins diet, and low glycemic diet as well as other alternative treatments.

Are seniors more likely to develop epilepsy than other age groups?

Yes, old age is the most common time to develop epilepsy. The rate of newly diagnosed epilepsy is actually higher in elderly people than in middle-aged adults. In fact, as we get older the possibility of having seizures increases with each decade. For example, an 85-year-old is three times more likely than a 70-year-old to have a seizure. Please click here for more on Epilepsy and Seniors.

Can women with epilepsy have children?

Yes. In fact, more than 90% of women with epilepsy have perfectly healthy babies. There are unique challenges women with epilepsy face such as seizure control during pregnancy and increased risk of having a child with birth defects due to antiepileptic drug usage.

Can sleep deprivation trigger a seizure?

Insufficient or fragmented sleep can trigger seizures in some people with epilepsy, and may provoke a seizure in susceptible individuals with no prior history of seizure. Indeed, some people suffer their only seizure in life after doing an “all-nighter” at college or after a prolonged period of poor sleep associated with a major life stressor. For some persons with epilepsy, lack of proper sleep can increase their chances of having a seizure, or even increase the intensity and duration of a seizure. Please click here for more on Epilepsy and Sleep.