What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a general term that describes frequent, recurrent seizures. A normally functioning brain is able to think, feel and tell the body to move because of electrical impulses that stimulate brain cells. During a seizure, however, incorrect electrical signals overwhelm the brain—resulting in changes in behavior or awareness (such hallucinations) and involuntary movements.
While all epilepsy involves seizures, not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. If the cause of the seizure can be determined to have been caused by something like a concussion, low blood sugar or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, the person likely does not have epilepsy. If the seizures are common and have no external cause, however, a doctor may diagnose a patient with epilepsy.
Epilepsy and Seizures by the Numbers
- 10 percent of the American population will experience a seizure in their lifetime
- An estimated 2.5 to 3 million Americans have or will develop epilepsy
- Approximately 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy occur each year.
- 300,000 American children under the age of 14 have epilepsy
- By 20 years of age, 1 percent of the population will develop epilepsy
- By age 75, 3 percent will develop epilepsy
- In 70 percent of new cases, no cause is apparent
- 50 percent of people with new cases of epilepsy will have generalized onset seizures