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Fact Sheet: Epilepsy

Definition of Epilepsy

A condition of the nervous system characterized by sudden seizures, muscle convulsions, and partial or total loss of consciousness for a short period.

Facts About Epilepsy

  • Epilepsy is caused by a sudden, brief change in chemical-electrical charges of the brain
  • About two million Americans have epilepsy
  • About 65% of seizure disorders are controlled with medication
  • A person cannot swallow his/her tongue during a seizure
  • It is important to discuss with the person with a seizure disorder what his/her particular needs are

Characteristics of Seizures May Include

  • Loss of consciousness with severe muscle twitching
  • A momentary loss of contact with the environment, with fluttering eyelids or twitching of a limb
  • Seizures are partial when the brain cells not working properly are limited to one part of the brain. Partial seizures may cause periods of altered consciousness and automatic behavior - purposeful-looking behavior such as buttoning or unbuttoning a shirt. Such behavior, however, is unconscious, may be repetitive, and is usually not recalled afterwards.

Guidelines For Assisting A Person Who Is Having A Seizure

If someone is having a seizure, in most cases, you should simply make sure the area is clear so the individual does not injure him/herself. People who have epilepsy are not violent against themselves or others during a seizure. However, certain safety precautions should be taken so that no one is hurt accidentally. Some safety precautions:

  • Move sharp objects, and place a pillow under the persons head
  • Do NOT place anything in the individuals mouth
  • After the seizure has run its course, the person may want to rest for a bit before returning to normal activity
  • If a seizure persists for more than a few minutes, emergency medical assistance is necessary


Epilepsy Foundation of America (EFA)

4351 Garden City Drive, Suite 406
Landover, MD 20785
Voice: (301) 459-3700; (800) 332-1000
Publications: (301) 577-0100
Fax: (301) 577-4941