Home > About Epilepsy

In Australia, around 1 in every 150 people are currently diagnosed with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is more common than Parkinson’s Disease, Cerebral Palsy, MS and Muscular Dystrophy combined, but it is still widely misunderstood. For example, many people think seizures are convulsive, but epilepsy can take many forms and affect people differently.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder and seizures are caused by a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain.

2 out of 3 people with epilepsy become seizure free with medication, however, this means 1 in 3 continue to have seizures despite taking medication.

Epilepsy is not necessarily lifelong. Some epilepsies are age related and seizures stop by a certain age.

Although some lifestyle changes are necessary, many people with epilepsy are able to lead full and productive lives.

And it is certainly no barrier to achievement – many well known people have had epilepsy. There are also some contemporary well-known figures who speak openly about their epilepsy including actors Hugo Weaving and Danny Glover, singers Neil Young and Susan Boyle, and sporting greats such as Tony Greig and Wally Lewis.

Epilepsy – A Snapshot

What is epilepsy? Epilepsy is disease of the brain characterised by the tendency to have recurrent seizures. It is the fourth most common brain disorder after migraine, stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Who does it affect? Epilepsy is more likely to be diagnosed in childhood or senior years, but can be diagnosed at any age. It can affect anyone.

What causes epilepsy?  Epilepsy can sometimes be caused by head trauma, stroke, infections in the brain, or abnormalities of the brain from birth. Genetics also play a role in some people.

About half of the people with epilepsy never know the cause of their epilepsy.

What is a seizure? A seizure is a temporary disruption of the electrical activity in the brain.  There are many different types of seizures that present in many ways including changes to sensation, awareness, behaviour or movement.

Not all seizures involve convulsions and not all seizures are diagnosed as epilepsy.

How is epilepsy treated?: Usually the first choice of treatment is medication. Other treatment options include surgery; Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS); the Ketogenic Diet or Modified Atkins Diet; and more recently Deep Brain Stimulation (not yet in Australia). Education and lifestyle changes are also important.

Can certain triggers set off a seizure?: Sometimes specific circumstances can increase the risk of having a seizure. These are usually called seizure triggers. Recognising these triggers can help to reduce or even avoid seizures. Some common triggers people report include lack of sleep, missed medication, fatigue, physical or emotional stress, hormonal changes and illness.

What’s the best way to help someone having a tonic clonic (convulsive) seizure?

1. Stay with the person
2. Time the seizure
3. Keep them safe. Protect from injury, especially the head
4. Roll into recovery position after the seizure stops (immediately if food/fluid/vomit is in mouth)
5. Observe and monitor their breathing
6. Gently reassure until recovered
7. Call an ambulance if there is an injury; if the seizure lasts for longer than five minutes; or if after the seizure ends the person is having breathing difficulties or is non-responsive

First Aid for Seizures