15.1  Epilepsy

Epilepsy is characterised by recurrent seizures (sometimes called fits). A seizure is caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, causing a temporary disruption in the normal messages passing between brain cells. This disruption results in the brain’s messages becoming halted or mixed up.

These seizures may be partial, involving only one part of the body, or they may be generalised, involving the entire body, and they may be accompanied by loss of control of bowel or bladder function. People who get seizures can suddenly lose consciousness and collapse, wherever they are (see Figure 15.1). Their limbs become stiff and the ‘fit’ is characterised by sharp, shaky movements.

Person having an epileptic fit
Figure 15.1  A person having an epileptic fit.

The brain coordinates all the functions of your body, so what is experienced during a seizure will depend on where in the brain the epileptic activity begins and how widely and rapidly it spreads. For this reason, there are different types of seizure.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 15

15.1.1  Types of seizure