A person's head showing the brain and an electric current

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by electrical disturbances in the brain. The condition results in seizures, which can cause unusual behavior, movements, or experiences, and sometimes a lack of awareness or loss of consciousness.

Epilepsy is diagnosed when you've had two or more seizures and there's no medical condition behind them, such as alcohol withdrawal or low blood sugar.

While the exact cause of epilepsy is unknown in about half of the cases, it sometimes runs in families or can result from different conditions such as strokes, infections, and traumatic brain injury. Treatment options include anti-seizure medications and, in some cases, surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes epilepsy?

    Epilepsy is a complex disorder and can be caused by anything that alters the brain’s electrical activity. Epilepsy can be linked to specific factors, including genetics, a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, or a brain infection.

  • How is epilepsy diagnosed?

    A variety of tests are used to help diagnose epilepsy, including a neurological exam and an electroencephalogram (EEG). Other tests may include blood work and imaging studies of the brain, such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and a positron emission tomography (PET).

  • Is epilepsy genetic?

    Many forms of epilepsy have a genetic component. Though genes don't necessarily cause epilepsy, they may make someone predisposed to it. For example, if you have the genes linked with epilepsy, you may be more likely to develop it if you experience a traumatic brain injury.

  • Is epilepsy considered a disability?

    The Social Security Administration lists epilepsy as one of the conditions which may qualify you for disability benefits if you meet their specific requirements. The rules regarding epilepsy are very technical, with separate requirements for convulsive and non-convulsive forms of the condition.

Key Terms

Young woman lying on the floor
What Everyone Should Know About Seizures
Checking the pulse of someone who has collapsed and is having a seizure
Taking Care of Someone Having an Epileptic Seizure
Unrecognizable doctor gives patient prescription medication
What to Know About Your Trokendi XR Prescription
Electroencephalogram (EEG) on a 27-year old woman
What Is Happening With Todd's Paralysis?
Child taking medication
Banzel (Rufinamide) Is an Add-On Treatment for Some Types of Epilepsy
Feeling an aura before a seizure
An Aura Is a Feeling Before a Seizure
A seizure ictal phase
The Noticeable Part of a Seizure Is the Ictal Phase
Picking up a prescription from the pharmacy
What to Expect When Taking Oxcarbazepine
A child playing
What to Expect If Your Child Has Doose Syndrome
Infant in neonatal intensive care
What to Expect When Your Baby Has Ohtahara Syndrome
Young woman doctor holding hand of senior grandmother patient, closeup
What You Should Know About Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)
Woman with daughter at doctor's office
How Are Atonic Seizures Different?
Soothing child with seizure
Childhood Seizures Can Occur During Sleep
Sleep study taking place
How a Sleep-Deprived EEG May Diagnose Seizures
Stressed man
Can Stress Cause Seizures?
Talking to doctor about a prescription change
What to Expect When Taking Potiga
Woman picking up a prescription from the pharmacy
What to Expect When Taking Neurontin
Bright flashing lights of a night club
Seizures That Can Be Provoked By Flashing Lights
Woman discussing anti-epileptic drug options with a pharmacist
Guide to the Prescriptions Used to Treat Epilepsy
Doctor holding a patient's hand
Can You Die From a Seizure?
Female doctor assisting a senior woman
How Are Tonic-Clinic Seizures Treated?
Doctor reviewing brain MRI with patient
The Responsive Neurostimulation System Controls Epilepsy Seizures
cannabis with cannabidiol (cbd) extract in a shopping cart
Cannabidiol (CBD) for Epilepsy Treatment
Electroencephalogram (EEG) on a 4-year old girl. Epilepsy tracing on the screen.
An Overview of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome
Baby boy drinking medicine off a spoon. Debica, Poland
Ethosuximide: A Helpful Treatment for Seizures
Female doctor discusses a medical diagnosis with patient
Mysoline Uses and Side Effects
What are Rasmussen's Syndrome and Rasmussen's Encephalitis?
Doctor holding oxygen mask over male patients mouth in intensive care unit
An Overview of Status Epilepticus
Baby test
What You Should Know About Dravet Syndrome
vegetarian ketogenic diet
How to Follow a Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy
An EEG test is performed on an epilepsy patient.
What the Symptom Following a Seizure Can Tell Us
medical form with epilepsy seizures box checked
High Rates of Epilepsy With Celiac Disease Suggests a Link
SPECT Scanner.
What to Expect When Undergoing a SPECT Scan
Embrace Watch for Seizures
The Embrace Watch Can Monitor for Epilepsy Seizures
What You Need to Know About Clobazam
Older man forgetfully looking out the window
How Symptoms of Seizures in Alzheimer's Are Silent and Easily Missed
Hands applying electrodes to baby for electroencephalography
An Overview of West Syndrome
Female nurse examining throat of girl sitting with family at medical room
Staring Spells and Absence Seizures
Intractable epilepsy
Intractable Epilepsy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Fenfluramine for Treatment of Epilepsy
Could An Obesity Medication Help Treat Epilepsy?
VNS therapy
How Vagal Nerve Stimulation Works for Seizure Prevention
What to Expect If You Have Myoclonic Epilepsy
Seizure dog
How Seizure Dogs Help People With Epilepsy
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Epilepsy Foundation. About epilepsy: The basics. Updated March 19, 2014.

Additional Reading