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What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain characterized by recurrent seizures. Approximately one in ten Canadians will experience at least one seizure during their lifetime. A single seizure, however, is not epilepsy. Epilepsy is a condition defined by multiple seizures.


Epilepsy is a seizure disorder. It is not a psychological disorder or a disease and it is not contagious. The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells or neurons that communicate through electrical and chemical signals. When there is a sudden excessive electrical discharge that disrupts the normal activity of the nerve cells, a seizure may result.


Epilepsy is one of the most common chronic neurological disorders. An estimated one percent of the general population has epilepsy. Based on that estimate, 330,000 people in Canada have epilepsy. In North America, almost four million people have epilepsy.


Epilepsy can present at any age, although its onset is most often in childhood or in the later years of life. Sometimes those who develop seizures during childhood outgrow their seizures. In the elderly, there is an increased incidence due to strokes and aging of the brain. In more than half of those with epilepsy, seizures can be well controlled with seizure medication.


Reprinted in part from Living with Epilepsy (Epilepsy Education Series, Edmonton Epilepsy Association)