The condition affects the brain and causes a person to have frequent seizures, and while with some types of epilepsy this can eventually stop over time, the condition is usually life-long for many.
What are the symptoms?
Epilepsy can start at any age, but it typically begins either in childhood or in people aged over 60, according to the NHS.
The main symptom of epilepsy is repeated seizures, which are sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain which temporarily affect how it works.
Seizures can affect people in different ways, with some causing the body to jerk and shake, while others may cause a loss or awareness or unusual sensations.
This is dependent on which part of the brain is involved.
A seizure can occur either while you are awake or asleep, and are sometimes triggered by something, such as feeling very tired, flashing lights and stress.
Symptoms of epilepsy can include:
- uncontrollable jerking and shaking - called a "fit"
- losing awareness and staring blankly into space
- becoming stiff
- strange sensations, such as a "rising" feeling in your stomach, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs
- passing out and not remembering what happened
What to do when someone has a seizure
If you see someone having a seizure, there are some things you can do to help them.
The NHS advises taking the following actions:
- only move them if they are in danger, such as near a busy road or by a hot cooker
- cushion their head if they are on the ground
- loosen any tight clothing around their neck, such as a collar or a tie, to help aid breathing
- when their convulsions stop, turn them so they are lying on their side
- stay with them and talk to them calmly until they recover
- note the time the seizure starts and finishes
- don't restrain their movements or put anything in their mouth
- don't give them anything to eat or drink until they have fully recovered
- don't attempt to bring them round
You should call for an ambulance if it is the first time someone has suffered a seizure, or if it lasts for more than five minutes.
Medical assistance should also be sought if a person doesn't regain consciousness, has lots of seizures in a row, has breathing problems, or has seriously injured themselves during the seizure.
How is epilepsy treated?
Epilepsy can be treated to help reduce the number of seizures, or stop them completely.
The main treatment is using medicines called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), although in some cases seizures can be controlled following a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbs, and has many health benefits.
In other cases, surgery is an option to remove a small part of the brain which is causing the seizures, or a procedure may be performed to place a small electrical device inside the body to help control it.