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Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures. Epileptic seizures happen because of abnormal electrical activity in your brain. During a seizure nerve cells in your brain may signal as many as 500 times a second — much faster than normal. Seizures can cause different symptoms, depending on what parts of your brain are affected. During a seizure, you might:
- Have jerking, twitching, or stiffening muscles
- Pass out and fall down
- Have sudden and unexplainable feelings of joy, anger, sadness, or nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
- Hear, smell, taste, see, or feel things that are not real
- Behave oddly, such as blink repeatedly, smack your lips, or walk in circles
- Stare into space, losing contact with reality for a moment
Epilepsy has many possible causes. Often the cause is unknown. Many people don't realize that epilepsy is as likely to begin in older adults as in young children.
Medicine can control seizures for most people with epilepsy. When medicines do not work well, an implanted device used to stimulate a nerve in the brain or surgery might help.
Most people with epilepsy appear to lead normal lives. Yet the condition can make some aspects of daily living more difficult. For instance, if you have epilepsy, most states will not give you a driver's license unless you can prove that you have gone a certain period of time without a seizure. The risk of seizures can also limit your recreational choices, such as swimming and water sports and contact sports. Talk to your doctor about what activities are risky for you and ways to reduce the risks should you want to participate.
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More information on Epilepsy
Explore other publications and websites
- Be an Active Participant in Care (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - Working actively with your doctor is an important way to manage epilepsy and minimize seizures. this web page suggest specific steps you can take to be an active participant in your health care.
- Birth Control for Women With Epilepsy (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation ) - This fact sheet explores the complex interactions between hormonal birth control, such as the pill, and some of the medications used to control seizures. It explores the questions of whether women with epilepsy can use hormonal birth control and whether it is effective.
- Elderly: Living With Epilepsy (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - This publication focuses on senior citizens who have epilepsy. It discusses some of the precautionary measures that can be taken to prevent seizures, the effects of epilepsy on mental alertness, mood, and memory, and how the disease may affect one's ability to drive.
- Employees With Epilepsy (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) - This publication for employers provides an overview of epilepsy and suggests ways employers might accommodate people with epilepsy and other seizure disorders in the workplace. Examples of accommodations as well as a list of resources are also provided.
- Employment: Is Employment Affected by Epilepsy? (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - this web page addresses employment problems that people with epilepsy sometimes face, such as discrimination and stigmatization of epilepsy. It offers advice on getting a job, staying safe in a safety-sensitive job, and changing jobs.
- Epilepsy - This website provides links to frequently asked questions about epilepsy, publications, resources, and more. It also links to a toolkit, which contains information and resources for parents of teens with epilepsy.
- Epilepsy - This fact sheet provides general information about epilepsy, including a definition, characteristics, educational implications, and resources.
- Hormones and Epilepsy (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked questions about hormones and epilepsy.
- Living With Epilepsy: Staying Healthy (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - This site discusses the importance of physical fitness, eating healthfully, and getting enough sleep for people with epilepsy. It also links to a physical fitness and exercise page that has more information about playing sports safely with epilepsy.
- Living With Epilepsy: Transportation (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - This site explains the driving laws that may affect people with epilepsy and offers tips on safe alternative methods of transportation.
- Pregnancy Issues (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - This fact sheet discusses pre- and post-pregnancy issues for women with epilepsy. Included is information about preparing for pregnancy, risks to the mother and baby before and after birth, and possible effects of antiepileptic medication.
- Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research - This brochure explains what epilepsy is, the different types and kinds of seizures, diagnosis, treatment options, and how seizure disorders can affect daily life. It also lists a number of additional resources.
- Treatment (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - This Internet site lists several different articles on treatment options available for people with epilepsy.
- Women's Health Issues: What You Should Know (Copyright © Epilepsy Foundation) - Epilepsy can sometimes seem like a different condition in a woman than in a man. This site provides information about epilepsy specific to women, especially as it relates to sexual and reproductive health.
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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.
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