Epilepsy is a chronic disorder. The defining feature of epilepsy is recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Many people with epilepsy have more than one type of seizure. People with epilepsy may also have other symptoms and neurological problems.

Sometimes, a group of people with epilepsy will have many similarities. They may have similar EEG testing, clinical history, family history and outlook. In these situations, their condition may be called a specific epilepsy syndrome.

The brain is the source of epilepsy. The symptoms of a seizure may affect any part of the body, but the electrical events that produce the symptoms happen in the brain. What is seen or felt during a seizure and how it affects you may be due to:

  • Where the seizure starts in the brain
  • How it spreads within the brain
  • How much of the brain is affected
  • How long it lasts

Having seizures and epilepsy can affect your health, safety, relationships, work, driving and so much more. Often, how other people perceive epilepsy and how people with epilepsy are treated (called “stigma”) is a bigger problem than the seizures.  

“The brain is the source of all epilepsy.”

People are diagnosed with epilepsy if any of the following things are true.

  • They had at least 2 unprovoked seizures more than 24 hours apart.
  • They have reflex seizures, provoked by a specific situation.
  • They had 1 unprovoked seizure and are likely to have further seizures.
  • They are diagnosed with an epilepsy syndrome.

An “unprovoked” seizure is a seizure that’s not caused by a known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar. Seizures in epilepsy may be related to a brain injury or a family tendency, but often the cause is unknown.

The word "epilepsy" alone doesn’t mean anything about what causes your seizures or how severe they are — it’s a general term that just means that you have seizures that are likely to occur again. Epilepsy may include people who have just seizures or seizures and other developmental or neurological problems.

Epilepsy is considered to be “resolved” (meaning you don’t have it anymore) if:

  • People who had an epilepsy syndrome that occurs only at a specific age and they are now are past that age.
  • People who have been seizure-free for the last 10 years and have not been on seizure medicines for the last 5 years.
Authored By: 
Patricia O. Shafer RN, MN
Authored Date: 
09/2014