Home > Health A – Z > Epilepsy


A group of disorders marked by problems in the normal functioning of the brain. These problems can produce seizures, unusual body movements, a loss of consciousness or changes in consciousness, as well as mental problems or problems with the senses.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Epilepsy

The epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders ranging from severe, life-threatening and disabling, to ones that are much more benign.

In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.

The epilepsies have many possible causes and there are several types of seizures. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity—from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development—can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, changes in important features of brain cells called channels, or some combination of these and other factors.

Having a single seizure as the result of a high fever (called febrile seizure) or head injury does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy.

A measurement of electrical activity in the brain and brain scans such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are common diagnostic tests for epilepsy. NIH - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Quality of life in patients with epilepsy and impact of treatment

Bibliographic details: Berto P.  Quality of life in patients with epilepsy and impact of treatment. Pharmacoeconomics - Italian Research Articles 2003; 5(2): 95-117

Effectiveness and safety of flunarizine for refractory epilepsy: a meta-analysis

Bibliographic details: Zhao CB, Zhang JB, Ren X, Wang SF, Yuan ZJ, Li XH, Dong HY, Liu HR, Hu XY, Duan SJ.  Effectiveness and safety of flunarizine for refractory epilepsy: a meta-analysis. Chinese Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 2010; 10(12): 1461-1466

Effectiveness and safety of progabide for refractory epilepsy: a meta-analysis

Bibliographic details: Yuan TT, Wu B, Zou XY.  Effectiveness and safety of progabide for refractory epilepsy: a meta-analysis. Chinese Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 2012; 12(7): 810-816 Available from: http://www.cjebm.org.cn/oa/DArticle.aspx?type=view&id=2012070013

See all (355)

Summaries for consumers

Perampanel (Fycompa) for epilepsy: Overview

Perampanel (trade name: Fycompa) has been approved since July 2012 as an add-on therapy for epileptic seizures in adults and children over the age of 12.

Corticosteroids including ACTH for childhood epilepsy other than epileptic spasms

The role of corticosteroids in children with epilepsy is yet to be established.

Care delivery and self‐management strategies for children with epilepsy

Evidence for the best ways to care for children with epilepsy is still unclear.

See all (120)

Terms to know

The part of the central nervous system that is contained within the skull (cranium).
Imaging Tests
A type of test that makes pictures of areas inside the body. Some examples of imaging tests are CT scans and MRIs. Also called imaging procedure.
A chemical that is made by nerve cells and used to communicate with other cells, including other nerve cells and muscle cells.
Sudden, uncontrolled body movements and changes in behavior that occur because of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Symptoms include loss of awareness, changes in emotion, loss of muscle control, and shaking. Seizures may be caused by drugs, high fevers, head injuries, and certain diseases, such as epilepsy.

More about Epilepsy

Photo of a young adult

Also called: Epileptic attack, Epileptic convulsions, Epileptic disorder, Epileptic fits, Epileptic seizures, Epileptic, Seizure disorder, EP

Other terms to know: See all 4
Brain, Imaging Tests, Neurotransmitters

Keep up with systematic reviews on Epilepsy:


PubMed Health Blog...

read all...