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Facts and figures

What you need to know

  • Epilepsy is defined as having repeated seizures - not just one
  • Epilepsy is the most common serious neurological condition in the world
  • 1 person in 97 has epilepsy; that's 54,000 people in Scotland
  • People develop epilepsy at all ages. It often occurs in later life and childhood
  • There are over 40 different types of epilepsy syndromes and seizure types
  • Some seizures end in seconds while others may last for several minutes
  • Epilepsy is frequently misdiagnosed - by as much as 30 per cent
  • There is a national shortage of epilepsy consultants and specialist nurses
  • Up to 70 per cent of people can achieve seizure control with medication
  • 50 per cent of children with epilepsy under-perform at school. Unemployment rates are doubled for people with epilepsy compared to those without a disability
  • For latest statistics, please see the Joint Epilepsy Council's paper on 'Epilepsy prevalence, incidence and other statistics', September 2011


For the latest and most up-to-date information on epilepsy please check out our Epilepsy information page.

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.

For more information, call the freephone helpline on 0808 800 2200, or download our Epilepsy explained guide.