Read the main text on Epilepsy

NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia


  1. Introduction
  2. Symptoms
  3. Causes
  4. Diagnosis
  5. Treatment
  6. Complications
  7. Recovery
  8. Facts
  9. Selected links


Your brain is very complex. It is made up from millions of nerve cells called neurones that control your body's functions, senses and thoughts. The neurones communicate with each other using very small electrical signals. A fit or seizure happens when there is a brief change or break in the way cells normally send and receive these electrical signals.

Epilepsy is a condition where a person has repeated fits or seizures. A seizure happens because the normal working of the brain is interrupted. Having one seizure does not necessarily mean you have epilepsy: the definition of epilepsy is more than one seizure.

Epilepsy is common. Around 1 in 30 people in the UK develop epilepsy at some point in their life. Epilepsy can affect anyone, and it can develop at any age. However, it is usually diagnosed before the age of 20 or after the age of 60.

Epilepsy is more common in people with certain disabilities. About a third of people with a learning difficulty have some form of epilepsy. Having a learning disability does not cause epilepsy and nor does epilepsy cause a learning disability. Both epilepsy and learning disabilities are a result of the brain working in an abnormal way.

There are different types of seizure and symptoms can vary. You may lose consciousness, have muscle contractions (your arms and legs may twitch and jerk), or your body may shake or become stiff. Seizures usually last between a few seconds and several minutes. Brain activity then returns to normal.

Drug treatment for epilepsy is usually very successful. In 4 out of 5 cases, treatment can reduce the number of seizures a person has. Sometimes, treatment can stop seizures happening altogether.

Continue to the next section "Symptoms"

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