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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 4, No. 6 - November/December 2012

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By Dr. Reshad Malik

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder of the brain that causes seizures. It can affect people of any age and around 50 million people worldwide suffer from the condition.

What Happens in Epilepsy?

Electrical activity is happening in our brains all the time. This is how our brain cells (or neurons) communicate with each other. A seizure occurs when there is a sudden burst of this activity.

There are two main types of seizures, which are defined by where they start in your brain: either in a certain area (focal) or all over (generalised).

During focal seizures, you may be alert or awake but not know what is going on. They involve uncontrollable movements of specific parts of your body or unusual sensations like numbness or pins and needles.

Generalised seizures involve both halves of your brain and cause uncontrollable movements, usually of your arms and legs. You lose consciousness during these seizures, which can last from a few seconds to many minutes.

What Can Trigger Seizures?

Seizures can happen at any time, but some things make them more likely to happen. These are known as triggers, and they include excessive alcohol consumption, certain drugs and not getting enough sleep.

How is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

You must have more than one seizure for a diagnosis to be made. One seizure alone does not mean you have epilepsy, as it can be due to many other things. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to a brain specialist called a neurologist.

Your neurologist will do tests such as blood tests, scans of your brain and a measurement of your brain waves called an EEG (electroencephalogram).

It can also be useful to keep a diary of your seizures, which you can then show to your neurologist. This tracks your seizure pattern and helps your team work out potential triggers and the best treatments for you.

Can Epilepsy Be Treated?

Medicines called 'anti-epileptic drugs' are the main treatment. They are not a cure, but can reduce the number of seizures you get. There are many different types of medicines and your doctor will tell you which is best for you. There are other types of treatment too, including surgery, but this is much less commonly used.

If you know what your triggers are, you can also help to reduce the frequency of your seizures by avoiding them if you can. For example, getting into a regular sleep pattern can prevent tiredness from triggering a seizure. It is also important to take your medication regularly, as prescribed by your doctor. Plan ahead, and don't run out!

Living with Epilepsy

A diagnosis of epilepsy can change your life and it can take time to get used to it. Some people may not be allowed to drive or operate heavy machinery for a period of time. It is not uncommon to become depressed due to these lifestyle changes. If you feel that you may be depressed, talk to your doctor as this can be treated.

Through working with your doctor and agreeing on the best treatment options for you, you could be one of the majority who have their seizures under control, and don't let it get in the way of living a full and active life.


  • If you know what your seizure triggers are, try to avoid them
  • Plan ahead so you don't run out of medication
  • Discuss with your care team ways to make daily living easier & safer
  • There is a lot of support for people with epilepsy. Ask your doctor about local support groups & organisations

About Dr. Reshad Malik

Dr. Reshad Malik is a member of the medical writing team at Medikidz, a charity that provides children and teenagers with informative, accessible and fun comics to help them understand their bodies and illness.

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