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NINDS Epilepsy Information Page

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Synonym(s):   Seizure Disorder
Condensed from Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research

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What is Epilepsy?

The epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders ranging from severe, life-threatening and disabling, to ones that are much more benign. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. The epilepsies have many possible causes and there are several types of seizures. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity—from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development—can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, changes in important features of brain cells called channels, or some combination of these and other factors. Having a single seizure as the result of a high fever (called febrile seizure) or head injury does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. A measurement of electrical activity in the brain and brain scans such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are common diagnostic tests for epilepsy.

Is there any treatment?

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 70 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. Some drugs are more effective for specific types of seizures. An individual with seizures, particularly those that are not easily controlled, may want to see a neurologist specifically trained to treat epilepsy. In some children, special diets may help to control seizures when medications are either not effective or cause serious side effects. 

What is the prognosis?

While epilepsy cannot be cured, for some people the seizures can be controlled with medication, diet, devices, and/or surgery. Most seizures do not cause brain damage, but ongoing uncontrolled seizures may cause brain damage. It is not uncommon for people with epilepsy, especially children, to develop behavioral and emotional problems in conjunction with seizures. Issues may also arise as a result of the stigma attached to having epilepsy, which can led to embarrassment and frustration or bullying, teasing, or avoidance in school and other social settings. For many people with epilepsy, the risk of seizures restricts their independence (some states refuse drivers licenses to people with epilepsy) and recreational activities.

Epilepsy can be a life-threatening condition. Some people with epilepsy are at special risk for abnormally prolonged seizures or sudden unexplained death in epilepsy.

What research is being done?

Scientists are studying the underlying causes of the epilepsies in children, adults, and the elderly, as well as seizures that occur following brain trauma, stroke, and brain tumors. Ongoing research is focused on developing new model systems that can be used to more quickly screen potential new treatments for the epilepsies. The identification of genes or other genetic information that may influence or cause the epilepsies may allow doctors to prevent the disorders or to predict which treatments will be most beneficial to individuals with specific types of epilepsy. Scientists also continue to study how neurotransmitters interact with brain cells to control nerve firing and how non-neuronal cells in the brain contribute to seizures. Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have developed a flexible brain implant that could one day be used to treat seizures. Scientists are continually improving MRI and other brain scans that may assist in diagnosing the epilepsies and identify the source, or focus, of the seizures in the brain. Other areas of study include prevention of seizures and the role of inflammation in epilepsy.  Patients may enter trials of experimental drugs and surgical interventions.

More about epilepsy research

NIH Patient Recruitment for Epilepsy Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)
223 W. Erie
Suite 2 SW
Chicago, IL   60654
info@CUREepilepsy.org
http://www.CUREepilepsy.org
Tel: 312-255-1801 800-765-7118
Fax: 312-255-1809

Epilepsy Foundation
8301 Professional Place
Landover, MD   20785-7223
postmaster@efa.org
http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org
Tel: 301-459-3700 800-EFA-1000 (332-1000)
Fax: 301-577-2684

Family Caregiver Alliance/ National Center on Caregiving
785 Market St.
Suite 750
San Francisco, CA   94103
info@caregiver.org
http://www.caregiver.org
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

National Council on Patient Information and Education
200-A Monroe Street
Suite 201
Rockville, MD   20850
ncpie@ncpie.info
http://www.talkaboutrx.org
Tel: 301-340-3940
Fax: 301-340-3944

National Family Caregivers Association
10400 Connecticut Avenue
Suite 500
Kensington, MD   20895-3944
info@thefamilycaregiver.org
http://www.thefamilycaregiver.org
Tel: 800-896-3650
Fax: 301-942-2302

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

International RadioSurgery Association
2960 Green Street
P.O. Box 5186
Harrisburg, PA   17110
irsa@irsa.org
http://www.irsa.org
Tel: 717-260-9808
Fax: 717-260-9809

Charlie Foundation to Help Cure Pediatric Epilepsy
515 Ocean Avenue
Suite 602N
Santa Monica, CA   90402
ketoman@aol.com
http://www.charliefoundation.org
Tel: 310-393-2347
Fax: 310-453-4585

Epilepsy Therapy Project
P.O. Box 742
10. N. Pendleton Street
Middleburg, VA   20118
info@epilepsytherapyproject.org
http://www.epilepsy.com
Tel: 540-687-8077
Fax: 540-687-8066

Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry
Massachusetts General Hospital
121 Innerbelt Road Room 220
Somerville, MA   02143
info@aedpregnancyregistry.org
http://www2.massgeneral.org/aed/
Tel: 888-AED-AED4 (233-2334)
Fax: 617-724-8307

Dravet.org
P.O. Box 66599
Baltimore, MD   21239-6599
info@Dravet.org
http://dravet.org
Tel: 866-828-1843

Intractable Childhood Epilepsy Alliance
PO Box 365
6360 Shallowford Road
Lewisville, NC   27023
info@ice-epilepsy.org
http://www.ice-epilepsy.org
Tel: 336-946-1570
Fax: 336-946-1571

Hope for Hypothalamic Hamartomas (Hope for HH)
P. O. Box 721
Waddell, AZ   85355
admin@hopeforhh.org
http://hopeforhh.org/

RE Children's Project
79 Christie Hill Road
Darien, CT   06820
swohlberg@rechildrens.com
http://www.rechildrens.org
Tel: 917-971-2977

LGS Foundation
192 Lexington Avenue
Ste 216
New York, NY   10016
info@lgsfoundation.org
http://lgsfoundation.org/index.html
Tel: 212-802-1401

 
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National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
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Last updated August 27, 2014