What Do I Need To Know About Epilepsy?

At this point you may have learned that you or someone in your family has epilepsy. Your healthcare provider may have already talked to you about this condition or will speak to you soon.

What is epilepsy, and what causes it?

Epilepsy is a chronic condition defined as having two or more seizures, which occur or reoccur on their own, more than 24 hours apart. It can develop in any person at any age.

Epilepsy can stem from different causes. Some people have epilepsy because of an accident that deprived their brain of oxygen, or an injury that caused bleeding in their brain. Other people have epilepsy because of a difference in their brain structure. Others have epilepsy because of a change in a gene. In fact, recent research has shown that changes in genes contribute to the cause of most epilepsies.

An artist depiction of the human body's nervous system

Your healthcare provider can talk to you more about the likely cause of epilepsy for you or your family member(s). There may be medical tests that would be helpful when trying to uncover a cause of epilepsy, such as blood and urine tests, electrical tests (like an EEG), and/or imaging tests (like an MRI). Genetic testing may be helpful as well for certain people. Even with genetic testing and other medical tests, about half of people with epilepsy do not know its cause.

It is important to determine the cause of epilepsy because depending on the cause, different treatments may be necessary. For instance, certain gene changes can determine the type of medication your health care provider prescribes for you.