Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. People with epilepsy have brain cells that create abnormal electricity, causing seizures. In some cases, a seizure may cause jerking, uncontrolled movements and loss of consciousness. In other cases, seizures cause only a period of confusion, a staring spell or muscle spasms.
A single seizure is not considered epilepsy. People with epilepsy have repeated episodes of seizures.
Epilepsy is not a mental illness, and it is not a sign of low intelligence. It is also not contagious. Seizures do not normally cause brain damage. Between seizures, a person with epilepsy is no different from anyone else.
If you have epilepsy, you may want to share the following information with your family, friends and coworkers. If someone near you has a seizure, use the following general guidelines:
Yes. You must take your medicine every day, even when you aren't having seizures or when you think you won't have a seizure. To prevent seizures, you have to take the medicine regularly, just as your doctor tells you.
Usually you should take your medicine as soon as you realize you forgot a dose. If more than 24 hours have passed since your last dose, call your doctor for instructions.
No. The amount of medicine you take for your epilepsy is carefully set for your own specific needs. No extra medicine should be taken without your doctor's approval.
It may be possible for some people with epilepsy to stop taking medicine. However, this decision must be made by your doctor. Before you and your doctor can decide to stop the medicine, several questions should be considered. These include how quickly your seizures were controlled, how long you have been free of seizures and if you have other illnesses that may affect your problem.
Because many drugs affect the ability of your epilepsy medicine to control your seizures, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking other drugs, even drugs you can buy without a prescription.
When you are first diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor will usually start by treating you with medication. If that doesn't work, your doctor may suggest surgery. Surgery is most commonly done if it’s known that your seizures begin a well-defined area of your brain that doesn't interfere with important functions like speech, language or hearing.
In other cases, your doctor may recommend a type of therapy called vagus nerve stimulation. This requires a small device be implanted under the skin on your chest. The device delivers an electrical pulse to the brain.
A kind of treatment for children with epilepsy involves a strict diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. This diet is known as a ketogenic diet.
With all treatments, work with your doctor to determine the best treatment for you.
You should avoid drinking alcohol if you have epilepsy. Alcohol can make it easier to have a seizure and can also affect the way your epilepsy medicine works in your body.
Uncontrolled seizures can affect the unborn baby. Epilepsy medicine may also affect the unborn baby. Decisions about taking medicine during pregnancy must be made by you and your doctor, after talking about the risks and the benefits.
Laws about driving for people with epilepsy are different in each state. Ask your local epilepsy foundation about driving rules or ask your doctor.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff