Epilepsy: introduction

The World Health Organisation describes epilepsy as "a chronic disorder characterised by recurrent seizures, which may vary from a brief lapse of attention or muscle jerks, to severe and prolonged convulsions. The seizures are caused by sudden, usually brief, excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells (neurones)."

A seizure (a fit or convulsion) may cause shaking of the body or alterations in consciousness. A single seizure may occur as part of various diseases, but epilepsy is defined as having repeated seizures. Epilepsy affects many people in Scotland, can cause major disruption to people's lives and increases the risk of death. In addition to the physical effects there may be psychological and social effects, including cognitive, behaviour and learning difficulties as well as social stigma. For the majority of those with epilepsy the condition can be controlled effectively with appropriate medication, and treatment usually leads to eventual remission. However in a significant minority the seizures remain difficult to control completely.

More detailed information on epilepsy for patients and health professionals is available from the sources listed in the Useful Links section.