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Epilepsy Causes, Symptoms, Testing and Treatment

Banner Brain & Spine’s experienced, compassionate team is dedicated to helping patients with epilepsy regain control of their lives. Our highly skilled specialists use the most advanced treatments available for epilepsy and seizure disorders. Our multidisciplinary team works with you to build a treatment plan tailored to your needs and focused on optimizing your quality of life. 

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes seizures. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, about 3.5 million Americans have epilepsy, making it the fourth most common neurological disease after migraines, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Epilepsy is defined as at least two unprovoked (or reflex) seizures occurring >24 hours apart.

If you have a seizure, it doesn’t mean you have epilepsy. However, two or more seizures may be a sign of epilepsy. Seizures may present various symptoms, such as sensory or involuntary motor symptoms, confusion, and convulsion with unconsciousness. Even a mild seizure can be unsafe if it happens during activities like swimming or driving.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Anyone can develop epilepsy, but more commonly caused by damage to brain cells from stroke, fever, dementia, infections, brain tumors, head trauma and genetics. This why new onset seizures are more common in people with age 65 years or older.  It can be quite difficult to determine the exact cause of someone’s epilepsy, and several tests may be needed. Some people may be able to identify seizure triggers, such as lack of sleep, stress, bright/flashing lights, caffeine/alcohol/medicines or specific foods.

In general, it’s most common in children and older adults. It’s also slightly more prevalent in women than men. 

Learn more about seizure causes and risk factors.

What Are Epilepsy Symptoms?

Seizures can vary greatly, but some more common symptoms of epilepsy include:

  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Staring blankly
  • Odd, repetitive behaviors
  • Repetitive twitching or jerking, uncontrolled movement or arms and legs
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Body shaking or stiffening, convulsions or muscle spasms
  • Altered senses (such as seeing or hearing things that are not real)
  • Changes in behavior or emotional state   

Depending on the area of the brain affected, you can experience a general seizure or a focal (partial) seizure. Learn more about types of seizures and their symptoms.

How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

Not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy. Generally, you are diagnosed with epilepsy if you have two or more seizures without clear provoking factors. To rule out other causes and understand what part of the brain the seizure occurs, your doctor may recommend a neurological exam, blood test and MRI scan and electroencephalogram (EEG).

Learn more about Epilepsy Diagnosis and Testing.

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

Researchers are learning more about epilepsy and ways to treat it every day. Currently, while there isn’t a cure, epilepsy disease treatments are available to help alleviate symptoms and maximize your quality of life. Some people with epilepsy may be able to control their seizures with medication, while others may need to undergo surgery or other treatments. It is important for people with epilepsy to work closely with their healthcare team to develop a treatment plan that is appropriate for their individual needs.  

Learn more about Epilepsy Treatment and Support.