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Anyone can suffer from epilepsy at any time. It can affect people of any age or background. 

Around 87 people are diagnosed with epilepsy every day. Around 600,000, or one in every 100 people, in the UK have epilepsy. It is usually only diagnosed after a person has had more than one seizure, although not all seizures will be found to be because of epilepsy. 1

What is a seizure?

A seizure is when there is a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affects how it works.2   

There are two main types of seizure: 

  • Focal seizures: This is where only certain parts of the brain are affected. For a focal aware seizure, the individual will maintain their consciousness. However, if they lose consciousness then this is a focal impaired awareness seizure.3
  • Tonic-clonic seizures: These can affect both sides of the brain from the start. Alternatively, they can start on one side of the brain and then spread to affect both sides.4

Patients suffering from a tonic-clonic seizure will experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness - so that you no longer become aware of what is happening
  • Your muscles go stiff  
  • You might bite down on your tongue or inside of your mouth 
  • Your limbs start to jerk 
  • You lose control of your bladder and/or bowels
  • You have trouble breathing4

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

The diagnosis of epilepsy is based on a detailed description of the events experienced by the patient before, during and after a seizure. Electroencephalography and other investigational technologies can support the clinical diagnosis of epilepsy.5

Key Facts

  • Only 52 per cent of people with epilepsy in the UK are seizure free.1
  • It is estimated that with the right treatment 70 per cent could be seizure free.1

Taking Control

  • The aim of treatment is to enable patients to lead a life as normal as possible, free from seizures and with minimal or no side effects. The choice of treatment needs to be carefully tailored to each patient and their type of seizure.6
  • At the start of pharmacological treatment, a single anti-epileptic drug (AED) is generally given (monotherapy). Overall, 60-70 per cent of patients become seizure free after the start of treatment with AEDs. If seizures are not controlled with the first or second AED, additional AEDs are usually added.7
  • A US study, resulting from a research collaboration between the Epilepsy Foundation and UCB, reveals that using second-generation AEDs, providing specialist care and switching medications following epilepsy-related hospital admissions are associated with better outcomes for people living with epilepsy.8
  • Non-pharmacological treatments may also be considered for some patients. Surgery may also be considered for patients with drug-resistant seizures.9

1 Epilepsy facts, figures and terminology. Epilepsy Action https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/press/facts (last accessed November 2020) 

2 Epilepsy symptoms, NHS Choices. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/symptoms/ (last accessed November 2020)

3 Focal Seizures. Epilespy action. https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/seizures/focal-seizures (last accessed November 2020)

4 Tonic Clonic seizures. Epilepsy Action.  https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/seizures/tonic-clonic (last accessed November 2020)

5 Epilepsy diagnosis. NHS Choices:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/diagnosis/ (last accessed November 2020) 

6 Kerr, M.P. The impact of epilepsy on patients' lives. Neurologica (2012) 

7 Kwan P, Brodie MJ. Early identification of refractory epilepsy. N Engl J Med (2000); 342: 314 – 9 

8 Faught E, et al. Newer antiepileptic drug use and other factors decreasing hospital encounters. Epilepsy Behav (2015) ; 45: 169-175

9 Bayer, AD, et al. Fighting Fire with Fire: Surgical Options for Patients with Drug-Resistant Epilepsy. R I Med J (2018); 101(2):37-40