- 1 out of 10 people will experience a seizure within their lifetimes.
- It is likely that around 50 million people in the world have epilepsy at any given time.
- Children and adolescents are more likely to have epilepsy of unknown or genetic origin than adults.
- Epilepsy can start at any age.
- Recent studies show that seizures in up to 65% of children and adults with newly diagnosed epilepsy can be controlled with medications. However, many of these people experience treatment-related side effects.
- Seizures in up to 35% of people with epilepsy cannot be stopped with currently-available medicines.
- There are more people with epilepsy than multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, and autism combined.
- Babies who are small for their gestational age
- Babies who have seizures in the first month of life
- Babies who are born with abnormal brain structures
- Bleeding into the brain
- Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
- Serious brain injury or lack of oxygen to the brain
- Brain tumors
- Infections of the brain: abscess, meningitis, or encephalitis
- Stroke resulting from blockage of arteries
- Cerebral palsy
- Mental challenges
- Seizures occurring within days after head injury (called “early post-traumatic seizures”)
- Family history of epilepsy or fever-related seizures
- Alzheimer’s disease (late in the illness)
- Fever-related (febrile) seizures
- Use of illegal drugs such as cocaine
- Special Note: mild head injuries (such as a concussion with just a very brief loss of consciousness) do not cause epilepsy.
It may seem obvious that heredity (genetics) plays an important role in many cases of epilepsy in very young children, but it can be a factor for people of any age. For instance, not everyone who has a serious head injury (a clear cause of seizures) will develop epilepsy. Those who do develop epilepsy are more likely to have already had a history of seizures in their family. That would make it easier to develop epilepsy than for others with no genetic predisposition.
Epilepsy in which the seizures begin from both sides of the brain at the same time is called “primary generalized epilepsy”. PGE is more likely to involve genetic factors than what is called partial epilepsy, in which the seizures are limited to one area of the brain.
The overall life expectancy of people who have epilepsy is the same as for anybody else if they are otherwise healthy. Some people whose epilepsy is caused by factors such as stroke or a brain tumor may pass on sooner.
A long-lasting convulsive seizure (called “tonic-clonic status epilepticus”) is a medical emergency. If not stopped within about 30 minutes, it can cause permanent injury or death. In addition, people with epilepsy can also die from inhaling vomit during, or just after, a seizure. This can be prevented if someone physically turns the individual onto his or her side when the seizure begins and ensures that any vomit completely exits the mouth. In general, however, seizures are rarely fatal, even if the person loses consciousness.