Epilepsy is a very common neurological disorder which affects every 1 in 100 people in the UK. Mr Richard Selway is one of the UK’s leading epilepsy surgeons. He is going to give us a rundown of what epilepsy is and how seizures affect us. When a person is having an epileptic seizure it causes abnormal electrical activity in the brain which interrupts the way our brain normally works. Our brains cells are constantly sending electrical signals and messages to each other and throughout our body, so when an epileptic seizure is happening this can cause normal processes to be interrupted and can make a person jerk, become stiff and even be unaware of seizure they are experiencing.


Epilepsy can cause a range of symptoms and varies from person to person. Here are some of the possible symptoms you may be experiencing:

  • Uncontrollable jolting or jerking, and shaking
  • Collapsing
  • Staring blankly
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sensation of tingling or unusual sensations when an epileptic fit is about to begin.

The main symptom of epilepsy is a seizure but there are a whole host of different types of seizures. To find out more about them visit the NHS website here.

Causes of epilepsy

In most cases of epilepsy there is no clear identifiable cause. Sometimes it can be due to family genes and you could have inherited it. Other possible causes are associated with damage to the brain like a brain tumour, stroke, head injury, substance abuse or infection.

Generalised seizures

There are six types of generalised seizures that would help to be familiar with.

  • Tonic clonic seizures: There are two phases to this seizure as both sides of the brain are affected. In the tonic phase the person will be unconscious, muscles will become stiff and can cause a person to fall to the floor. Tongue biting in common and so are sounds of crying or groaning. Following the clonic phase, jerking of the limbs may take effect as well as loss of control of bladder and bowel function. This seizure can take between 1-3 minutes.
  • Tonic seizures: When a tonic seizure take effect a person’s limbs will go stiff and arms will raise upwards. They will fall hard to the floor if they are standing and it is common for them to fall backwards. There is no jerking or moving of the limbs and the person is completely unconscious during this time and the seizure will usually last for 60 seconds.
  • Atonic seizures: Also known as a drop seizure, a person will lose all motor function and their muscles will go limp. This will cause them to fall to the floor, bang their head and result in other possible injuries. They are very brief and last just a couple of seconds.
  • Absence seizures: Previously called a Petit mal seizure, this type will result in a person unconsciously being in a daydreaming episode. They will stare in to space and look like they are not listening, they may blink and have slight jerking movements. This seizure can begin in childhood and can sometimes be missed as it could be put down to a child not listening when really, they have no control over what is happening.
  • Myoclonic seizures: Myoclonic are short seconds long seizures and sometimes unnoticeable. They cause short symptoms of muscle movement and jerking. They can be very mild or strong which may cause a person to fall over but they remain conscious during this seizure.
  • Clonic seizures: Clonic seizures have repeated and rhythmic symptoms of jerking and limb movement. The person is unaware they are doing it and will last from 10 seconds up to 2 minutes.

Treatments for epilepsy

There are various types of management and treatment methods for epilepsy. There are medications called anti-epileptic drugs that help prevent or control seizures from happening. Other types of treatment can be Vagus nerve stimulation VNS and Deep brain stimulation DBS. Obviously surgical intervention will be considered for serious and life-affecting types and causes of epilepsy.

Surgery for epilepsy is not taken lightly and various tests will be carried out prior, like EEG, brain scans and memory/ability testing. All of this will feed information about a person epilepsy to us so we can give the best possible outcome of management for the patient.

If you are or know someone who is suffering with epilepsy, child or adult and need more information then please do not hesitate to get in-touch for an in-depth consultation discussing the type of epilepsy associated with you.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition. 

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