Banner Health Services  

Do seizures mean epilepsy

Marc Wasserman, MD  

Marc Wasserman, MD, is a neurologist on staff at Banner Estella Medical Center.  His office can be reached at (623) 535-0050.

Question: If I have a seizure, does that mean I have epilepsy? What is the outlook for someone with epilepsy?

Answer: Roughly 5 percent of the population—one in 20 people—will have a seizure at some point in their lives. Seizures can occur for several reasons, including: tumors, stroke, injury, infection, low blood sugar, illness, poisoning and drugs. Sometimes, no cause is found. Occasionally, seizures are not really seizures at all—they may be fainting spells, or even anxiety attacks. 

As a result, not all seizure events are epilepsy-related. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where nerve cells in the brain malfunction, causing a seizure. Epilepsy is diagnosed when an individual experiences multiple, unprovoked seizures. In the United States, nearly three million people have the disorder.

Neurologists are the specialists who most often diagnose epilepsy. Since people are often unaware when they are having a seizure, much of the information neurologists use for diagnosis comes from descriptions from those who have witnessed an individual’s seizures. When seizure patterns are not understood, MRI scans of the brain and EEGs, a painless test that measures brain wave activity, are usually necessary.

Some forms of epilepsy are hereditary, but in most cases, there is no family history.  Seizures are not contagious and children should be taught that you cannot "catch" them. 

You should never put anything in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure. Call 911 immediately if you think a friend or family member is having a seizure. Let medical experts decide whether a medical emergency is occurring.

The outlook for those with epilepsy continues to improve every day. With treatment, many people lead relatively normal lives and are able to drive and work without any restrictions. In the last 10 years, nearly a dozen new antiepileptic medications have been introduced, with more on the way. Nerve stimulators have been devised that can stop seizures before they begin. Also, brain mapping, done at some university centers, can determine the exact area of the brain that is malfunctioning. Surgically removing that portion of the brain, without damaging any other surrounding tissues, can sometimes be a cure. 


Page Last Modified: 09/25/2009
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