Epilepsy comes from a Greek word meaning "to hold or seize," and people who have
epilepsy have seizures. You might also hear a seizure
called a convulsion, fit, or spell.
Your brain cells are constantly sending out electrical signals that
travel along nerves to the rest of the body.
These signals tell the muscles
to move so you can do your normal activities. During a seizure, a person's muscles
tighten and relax rapidly or stop moving completely. Seizures come on suddenly, and
people who have them cannot control their muscles while they are having a seizure.
Depending on where in the brain a seizure is happening, a person’s behavior
may change in different ways. If too many brain cells are sending signals at
the same time, it causes an overload, and a person may pass out and shake all over.
People who have epilepsy may have seizures only once in a while or as frequently as
What's a Seizure?
A seizure is a change in a person’s behavior that comes from abnormal electrical
activity in the brain. Most seizures occur without warning, although some people have
a funny feeling, an upset stomach, or a weird smell or taste right before a seizure.
This is called an aura. Others find that certain things may bring
on a seizure, like not getting enough sleep
or playing video games.
During a seizure, the person may fall down, shake, stiffen, throw up, drool, urinate
(pee), or lose bowel control.
Other seizures seem less dramatic. Someone might just stare into space or have
jerking movements in one part of the body. When the seizure is over, the person may
feel sleepy and won't remember what happened.
Who Has Epilepsy?
About 3 million Americans have epilepsy, including boys and girls and people of
all races and ages. Seizures can start at any age, but often they begin before age
10 or after age 55.
Doctors often can't explain why a person has epilepsy. They do know that epilepsy
is not contagious — you can't catch it from somebody. Epilepsy is not passed
down through families (inherited) in the same way that blue eyes or brown hair are.
But if somebody's mom or dad or brother or sister has epilepsy, then he or she has
a slightly higher risk for epilepsy than somebody whose family has no history of seizures.
How Can Doctors Help?
If a person has a seizure, doctors may do some tests, such as a CAT
scan, an MRI, or an electroencephalogram
(EEG). A CAT scan or MRI helps a doctor look at the brain and an EEG records brain
waves. Don't worry — these tests don't hurt at all. Blood tests may also be
All of these tests can help doctors try to find out what caused the seizure and
if a kid might have more seizures. But sometimes seizures are a one-time thing —
many kids who have one seizure never have another one.
Most people who are diagnosed with epilepsy can control their seizures by taking
medicines. As they get
older, many kids with epilepsy get better and can stop taking medicine. For some kids,
it may be difficult to get the seizures under control. A special diet or surgery may
Are Kids With Epilepsy Different?
People who have epilepsy may need to be careful in places where they could get
hurt if they have a seizure, like a high place or in the bathtub. And they may not
be able to do certain sports, such as boxing or scuba diving.
But other than that, most people with epilepsy can live normal lives and do what
everyone else does. They can go to school, attend college, and get jobs. They can
get married and have children.
However, even if epilepsy doesn't limit a person's ability, it can make a kid feel
different. So, if you know somebody who has it, you can help a lot just by being a