What is epilepsy (seizure disorder)?

Epilepsy is another way of saying recurrent seizures or seizure disorder. Seizures start in the brain. Not all seizures are the same. People might have one or different types of seizures. 

Dr. Adriana S. Tanner, MD

Epilepsy, or seizure disorder, is one of the more common neurological disorders, and it is capable of affecting people of all ages. One in 26 Americans will develop the condition, which is characterized by unpredictable seizures.

The effects of epilepsy vary from person to person, with some patients experiencing numerous seizures each day.

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Dr. Jerome Engel, MD

Epilepsy is a disease associated with the occurrence of epileptic seizures. There are, in fact, many different epilepsy diseases and syndromes with different causes, symptoms and treatments. The diagnosis of epilepsy is made when there is evidence of an enduring abnormality in the brain capable of causing repeated epileptic seizures. Determination of the presence of such an enduring epileptogenic abnormality is made clinically when two epileptic seizures occur more than 24 hours apart, that are not a natural reaction of the normal brain to transient stress such as fever or alcohol withdrawal; or when other features permit the diagnosis of a specific epilepsy syndrome; or when there is a documented brain abnormality that is known to have a high likelihood of causing epileptic seizures. The International League Against Epilepsy has also added to the definition of epilepsy—“and by the neurobiological, cognitive, psychological, and social consequences of this condition”—acknowledging that epilepsy is more than epileptic seizures, it must also be defined by the important deleterious impact epilepsy has on patients, their families and society.

Epilepsy is an umbrella term for recurrent seizures that have no provocation, such as low blood sugar, electrolyte abnormalities, etc. About 1% of all children in the United States have recurrent seizures. While some forms of epilepsy will persist into adulthood, other types will resolve in adolescence.

Epilepsy causes abnormal electrical activity in the brain, leading to seizures. Though seizures are always a serious health issue, their severity can vary widely.

If it happens only once, the seizure is an isolated incident and will stop once the underlying causes have been removed. However, if seizures continue, and there’s no obvious provoking factor, the cause may be epilepsy.

Seizures involve a malfunction of the natural electrical activity in the brain. Seizures are often a one-time occurrence; however, if a person has more than one spontaneous seizure at different times, this is called a seizure disorder and is also known as epilepsy. The nerve cells in our brains, known as neurons, communicate with each other through electrical impulses that our brains produce naturally through chemical interactions. In people with epilepsy, these electrical impulses are disrupted periodically. During this disruption, the neurons become overactive and try to send too many electrochemical impulses in too short a time. These overactive neurons are what cause seizures. This neurological disorder can produce a variety of symptoms, ranging from a brief disruption in consciousness to violent muscular contractions known as convulsions.

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that affects 2.7 million people in the United States, making it one of the most common disorders of the nervous system—impacting people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds.

A seizure is generated by abnormal electrical discharges from brain cells, a kind of misfiring that disrupts normal function, producing anything from a change in a person's consciousness to uncontrolled movements and/or sensations. Epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurring seizures.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder—which has been likened to an electrical storm in the rain.

Epilepsy is characterized by recurring seizures, which occur when all of the neurons in the brain begin firing at once, overwhelming the rest of the brain.

About 50 million people across the globe suffer from epilepsy. It is a misunderstood and often stigmatized condition.

Epilepsy is a group of disorders characterized by recurrent seizures.

Epilepsy is a chronic seizure condition.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.