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Epilepsy is defined as repeated seizures (not just one) that start in the brain. A brief disturbance in the brain's normal electrical activity causes the nerve cells to fire off random signals. The result is like an electrical storm that causes a temporary overload in the brain. This is called a seizure.
Please remember that only seizures are epileptic, not people.
There are many different kinds of seizure. Seizures are classified as being either partial or generalised, depending on how much of the brain is involved. Between seizures the brain works normally. What a seizure looks like depends on the area of the brain that has been affected. Some will end in seconds while others may last several minutes. People might lose awareness of what is happening or where they are during a seizure. There may be loss of consciousness altogether.
Epilepsy is not contagious, nor is it a disease, however, public ignorance and misconceptions about epilepsy have led to fear and prejudice. However, understanding and knowledge about epilepsy is improving. This can help reduce the impact epilepsy has on a person's life.
Epilepsy can occur if the brain tissue is malformed or has been damaged or scarred by, for example, an infection or head injury. This is referred to as symptomatic epilepsy. In 7 out of 10 cases epilepsy has no identifiable cause. This is called idiopathic epilepsy.
It is thought that in some cases there could be a genetic link. The likelihood of this depends on whether or not another family member has epilepsy and, if so, what kind of epilepsy they have.
Although seizures can appear dramatic and frightening to an observer, it is important to realise that the person affected normally feels no pain during a seizure and may have no memory of it afterwards.
Most seizures are not harmful to the brain and the person affected usually recovers quickly.