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What is Epilepsy?

International Global Health

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition, which affects the nervous system. Epilepsy is also known as a seizure disorder. It is usually diagnosed after a person has had at least two seizures that were not caused by some known medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar.

Epilepsy is the most common chronic brain disease and affects people of all ages. More than 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy;  nearly 80% of them live in low- and middle-income countries.



  • Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures.
  • Epilepsy affects about 3.4 million Americans.
  • About 1 out of 10 people may have a seizure during his or her lifetime, though not all will develop epilepsy.
  • There are many different kinds of epilepsy and types of seizures.
  • People with epilepsy can have an active life.


Types of Epilepsy

Epilepsy occurs as a result of abnormal electrical activity originating in the brainBrain cells communicate by sending electrical signals in an orderly pattern. In epilepsy, these electrical signals become abnormal, giving rise to an `electrical storm`that produces seizures. These storms may be within a specific part of the brain or be generalized, depending on the type of epilepsy


Epilepsy is not one disease or condition. There are many kinds of epilepsy with different symptoms and patterns. It is important to know what kind you have. It can help you and your doctor understand the treatment you need, the triggers to avoid, and what to expect in the future.



Generalized seizures

  • All areas of the brain (the cortex) are involved in a generalized seizure. Sometimes these are referred to as grand mal seizures.
  • The person experiencing such a seizure may cry out or make some sound, stiffen for several seconds to a minute and then have rhythmic movements of the arms and legs. Often the rhythmic movements slow before stopping.
  • Eyes are generally open.
  • The person may appear to not be breathing and actually turn blue. This may be followed by a period of deep, noisy breathes.
  • The return to consciousness is gradual and the person may be confused for quite some time - minutes to hours.
  • Loss of urine is common.
  • The person will frequently be confused after a generalized seizure.


Partial or focal seizures: 

  • Only part of the brain is involved, so only part of the body is affected. Depending on the part of the brain having abnormal electrical activity, symptoms may vary.
  • If the part of the brain controlling movement of the hand is involved, then only the hand may show rhythmic or jerky movements.
  • If other areas of the brain are involved, symptoms might include strange sensations like a full feeling in the stomach or small repetitive movements such as picking at one`s clothes or smacking of the lips.
  • Sometimes the person with a partial seizure appears dazed or confused. This may represent a complex partial seizure. The term complex is used by doctors to describe a person who is between being fully alert and unconscious.
  • Impairment of consciousness is present with the person often staring blankly.
  • Repetitive blinking or other small movements may be present.
  • Typically, these seizures are brief, lasting only seconds. Some people may have many of these in a day


Absence or petit mal seizures

These are most common in childhood.



Since different types of seizures respond to different treatments, your doctor will ask about family history and request several tests such as:

  1. Blood test for Epilepsy: Certain blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel, may be recommended as part of your epilepsy diagnosis and treatment.
  2. Epilepsy EEG Test
  3. PET Scan 



Sometimes we can prevent epilepsy. These are some of the most common ways to reduce your risk of developing epilepsy:


Health tips

The most important steps you can take isseeking help as soon as you feel less able to cope. Epilepsy is best managed by a team of doctors that can provide medical, psycho-social and educational support.

If you have a problem with school, work, finances, relationships, or daily activities, it is important for you to discuss it with a doctor.

Taking action early will enable you to understand and deal with the many effects of epilepsy. Learning to manage stress will help you maintain a positive emotional and spiritual outlook on life.



World Health International (WHO)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Web MD



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