5 things you didn't know about epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological condition, which is characterised by seizures that start in the brain. Seizures occur when there is an intense burst of electrical activity, which disrupts the normal working of the brain.

Epilepsy is a misunderstood condition and people often have misconceptions about it. Here are five things you may not know.

1. Things other than flashing lights can trigger seizures

One of the most common misconceptions is the belief that most people with epilepsy will have a seizure as a result of flashing lights. However, only about 4% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive in this way. Seizures can be triggered by things like stress, sleep deprivation, alcohol or missing meals, and, in very rare cases, by listening to certain types of music. But for many people, there are no seizure triggers at all.

Furthermore, not all seizures are convulsive. Indeed, there are more than 40 different types of epileptic seizure depending on the area of the brain affected.

2. Epilepsy affects more people than you realise

Epilepsy is actually quite common, affecting about 600,000 people in the UK, which works out as being about one in every 100 people, with 87 people diagnosed every day. Globally, about 60 million people have the condition. Furthermore, statistics suggest that one in 50 people will have epilepsy at some point in their life, although not everyone with epilepsy will have it for life.

3. Anyone can get epilepsy at any time

Anyone can get epilepsy and it can start at any age. But the risk increases as you get older, with it most common in people over 65. This is because many of the causes of epilepsy are associated with ageing, such as strokes or a brain tumour. Other causes include head injuries and infections like meningitis, while there is also a genetic tendency to have epileptic seizures. There is a risk in children if the brain is not developing properly. However, as many as six in 10 people with epilepsy won't know the cause of their condition.

4. There is ignorance around the effect epilepsy can have on people's lives

Beside the seizures, many people with epilepsy will experience feelings of low self-esteem, depression and social isolation, as a result of the condition. The suicide rate among people with epilepsy is 22% greater than in the general population. Being stigmatised, issues with gaining employment and discrimination in the work place can be common for people with epilepsy. As a result, many people are uncomfortable talking about their condition for fear of embarrassment or being judged.

5. People with epilepsy can still drive

If you have a driving licence and have a seizure you must stop driving and inform the DVLA. But in some cases, people with epilepsy can be eligible to drive again. There are types of licences that people with epilepsy can apply for, if their seizures have been controlled for a certain period of time and they meet other specific criteria.


Katrina Megget is the former editor of PharmaTimes Magazine and has written about healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry for more than eight years. Katrina is now a freelance writer, specialising in healthcare and science, but also dabbles in adventure travel writing and has the ambitious aim of climbing 40 volcanoes by the age of 40. Visit her blog or follow Katrina on twitter: @katrinamegget