Home > About Epilepsy

In Australia, around 250,000 people are currently diagnosed with epilepsy – that’s over 1 per cent of the population so chances are most people know someone with the condition.

Epilepsy has been around for a long time and is actually mentioned in ancient literature including the Bible. While it is more common than Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy combined, the condition is widely misunderstood. For example, the majority of people relate epilepsy to seizures but it can take many forms and affects individuals to different degrees.

Contrary to popular belief, epilepsy is a neurological disorder—not a form of mental illness—and seizures are caused by a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain rather than a chemical imbalance. Nor is it necessarily a lifelong disorder. Some childhood epilepsies are outgrown and more than 70% of people with epilepsy become seizure free with medication.

Those with epilepsy are usually able to live full and normal lives through medication and self-management of the condition, and by taking some precautions.

And it is certainly no barrier to achievement – Socrates, Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven are all thought to 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 rugby league legend Wally Lewis.

Epilepsy – A Snapshot

What is Epilepsy?: Epilepsy is the world’s most common serious brain disorder and is characterised by spontaneous, recurrent seizures.

Who does it affect?: Although it is more likely to be diagnosed in childhood or senior years, it is not confined to any age, intelligence, gender, or race.

What causes it?: Anything that results in damage or scarring to the brain may lead to seizures and epilepsy, including a head injury, stroke or brain infection. The cause remains unknown for about half of those diagnosed.

What is a seizure?: A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. Not all seizures involve convulsions. Epilepsy takes many forms and seizures present in many ways including changes to sensation, awareness, behaviour or movement.

How is it treated?: While more than 70% of people become seizure free taking medication, an important step in managing epilepsy is gaining an understanding about the condition. Other treatment options include surgery; Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) – a pacemaker-like device for the brain; and complementary therapies, such as the Ketogenic diet (high-fat/low carbohydrates).

Can certain triggers set off a seizure?: Avoiding triggers can reduce the risk of seizures in people with epilepsy. Some known triggers include lack of sleep, missed medication, physical or emotional stress, rapid flashing lights and heat.

What’s the best way to help someone having a convulsive seizure?:

  1. Protect the person from injury especially the head, and time the seizure.
  2. Place something soft under their head or support their head with your hands.
  3. Gently roll on their side after the jerking stops or immediately if there is food/fluid/vomit in their mouth.
  4. Don’t try to restrain them or put anything in their mouth.
  5. Call an ambulance if an injury has occurred; 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.