|Around 2 per cent of the
population suffers from epilepsy. Most people with epilepsy have
had it since childhood. Epilepsy usually starts between the ages
of three months and the teens. Around 60 per cent of children
with epilepsy grow out of it. Most other people can control their
seizures with medication and there is relatively little disruption
to their lives.
|What is epilepsy?
|Epilepsy is characterised
by seizures, sometimes called fits or convulsions. These occur
when some of the nerve cells in the brain become overactive, and
fire off uncontrolled random signals.
Some people have one seizure and then never have another ever
again. People who experience repeated seizures - whether once
a year, or several times a day - have epilepsy.
The cause of epilepsy is not known, but it's generally thought
to be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. People
can be more at risk if they have had a stroke, head injury, meningitis
or if they have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
Epilepsy sometimes runs families, and can be the result of a brain
injury at birth or rarely due to a brain tumour. In most cases,
though, it is not known why some people get epilepsy and others
|The main symptom of epilepsy
is repeated seizures. Most people have no other symptoms, and
live perfectly normal lives.
Seizures normally come on without warning, although they can be
triggered by flashing lights, or preceded by an 'aura' - people
with epilepsy sometimes report a strange smell, taste or feeling.
There are different kinds of seizures. Some people experience
just a fleeting loss of awareness. Others lose consciousness and
suffer stiffening or jerking movements in their body and even
Seizures can last just a few seconds, or may go on for some minutes,
and can be barely noticeable or quite traumatic.
|Types of epilepsy
|There are several different
types of epilepsy, each with different symptoms.
Primary generalised epilepsy
In this kind of epilepsy, also known as grand-mal epilepsy, nerve
cells in both sides of the brain become overactive at the same
time. Seizures usually last for about five minutes, and can be
In a grand mal, people are likely to experience some or all of
- falling to the ground
- losing consciousness
- experiencing stiffened muscles or jerking movements,
known as involuntary movements
- stopping breathing for a few seconds
- the jaw going rigid, frothing at the mouth and
biting the tongue
- wetting or soiling themselves
- feeling confused and drowsy when they come round
Absence seizure, also called petit-mal epilepsy, is not as alarming
as grand mal. There may be a loss of consciousness, or more often
just a loss of awareness, but this kind of seizure doesn't involve
falling down or experiencing involuntary movements. In fact, people
may just look as if they are daydreaming.
This kind of seizure is most common in children aged between five
and nine. Most grow out of them by the time they are 13.
Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy
During a juvenile myoclonic epileptic seizure, the hands, arms
or whole body will start jerking, but the person doesn't lose
consciousness or awareness. This type of epilepsy usually develops
in late childhood, and it always runs in families.
Temporal lobe epilepsy
Temporal lobe epilepsy has quite different symptoms. They include:
People may seem to be awake, but they won't respond to what is
going on around them
- making strange faces and noises
- chewing, swallowing and smacking the lips
- plucking at the clothes
|To diagnose epilepsy, the
doctor will need a detailed description of the seizures íV family
members or friends can often help with this.
The doctor may then arrange for some tests. These can include:
- an EEG (electroencephalogram )
- a brain scan - either CT (computerised tomography)
or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- blood and urine tests
|There is no cure for epilepsy,
but drug treatment can control the seizures in around 70 per cent
of people. These drugs sometimes have side effects, though, such
as drowsiness or a rash.
If someone who has had epilepsy doesn't have a seizure for two
years, their doctor may suggest they come off the medication (or
reduce the dose).
Very occasionally, in very specific cases, brain surgery may be
|People with epilepsy may
need to avoid certain activities or jobs where it could be dangerous
to have a seizure - most obviously, things like flying a plane,
but also, for example, operating certain machinery, riding a bicycle
in busy traffic, or swimming alone. People who are diagnosed with
epilepsy cannot drive until their doctor confirms that their seizures
are under control.
If a child has epilepsy, it is important to ensure he or she doesn't
get too tired. Older children and adults may benefit from relaxation
and anti-stress exercises.
It's also a good idea for someone with epilepsy to carry a card,
necklace or bracelet which says that they have epilepsy. Family,
friends, teachers and colleagues should be told what to do in
the event of a seizure.
|If someone has a seizure
|If someone has an epileptic
seizure while you are present - if they lose consciousness or
suffer convulsions - protect them from injury by doing the following:
- asking onlookers to keep back
- loosening clothing around their neck
- cushioning their head
When the convulsions stop, put them in the recovery position.
After they regain consciousness, let them rest quietly in a safe
Do not try to move or restrain the person, or put anything in
their mouth. Do not give them anything to drink until they are
fully conscious again.
You should call an ambulance only if any of the following happen:
If someone has a seizure that does not involve loss of consciousness,
do the following.
- the seizure lasts more than five minutes
- the convulsions happen again without the person
- the person injures themselves during the seizure
- help them to sit down in a quiet safe place
- talk to them calmly and reassuringly
- stay with them until they feel well again
|Enlighten Action for Epilepsy
1/F, Tang Chi Ngong Clinic,
Hotline: (852) 2820 0111
Fax: (852) 2538 9873
The National Society for Epilepsy
The British Epilepsy Association
The Epilepsy Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
|Healthwise (Health Information Resource
Tel : (852) 2849 2400
Fax : (852) 2849 2900
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Homepage : http://www.healthwise.org.hk/
This leaflet is for information only. For a detailed
opinion or personal advice, please consult with your own