Seizures and epilepsy are not the same. A seizure is an event – a disruption of the normal electrochemical activity of the brain – and epilepsy is a disease of the brain characterised by the tendency to have recurrent seizures.
There are many different types of ‘epilepsies’ and people’s experiences differ greatly.
Under certain circumstances, anyone can have a seizure and not all seizures are diagnosed as epilepsy.
When people have an epilepsy syndrome that is age-dependent and grows past the relevant age, or if someone has been seizure-free for 10 years, with no antiepileptic medication for 5 years, their epilepsy is considered “resolved”.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a common disease of the brain where there is a tendency to have recurrent seizures.
It is a neurological disorder—not a form of mental illness—and seizures are caused by a temporary disruption of the electrical activity in the brain.
Approximately 3% to 3.5% of Australians will experience epilepsy at some point in their lives and over 250,000 Australians currently live with epilepsy.
Epilepsy can start at any age although it is more likely to be diagnosed in childhood or senior years. Children represent approximately 40% of the population with epilepsy.
There are many different types of epilepsies and people’s experiences differ greatly. Some types of epilepsy last for a limited time and the person eventually stops having seizures. For others, epilepsy is a life-long condition. However more than two thirds of people with epilepsy become seizure free with medication.
The cause of epilepsy can be identified in about half of people with epilepsy, but the remaining half never find out why they have epilepsy.
Some known causes of epilepsy include:
- head injury such as in a car accident, trauma or serious fall
- stroke or brain haemorrhage
- lack of oxygen to the brain for a prolonged period (such as in birth trauma, cardiac arrest, drowning, drug overdose)
- brain infections (for example meningitis, encephalitis or brain abscess)
- brain abnormalities or malformations
- brain tumours
- genetic factors
- degenerative conditions affecting the brain (such as dementia).