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Frequently Asked Questions

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is quite simply the tendency to have recurrent seizures.   A seizure may be known by a number of different terms, i.e. funny turns, fits, convulsions.   They do however describe the same thing, a sudden and involuntary episode of electrical activity in the brain.

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Are there different types of seizures?

There are many types of seizure and are usually divided into two main groups, Generalised and Partial.

Generalised Seizures – These occur when the abnormal activity which causes a seizure affects both hemispheres of the brain at the same time, affecting the level of consciousness.   These seizures may be divided into several sub types.

Tonic Seizures – These involved a sudden stiffness of the limbs and/or the whole body.   The main concern about this type of seizure, (about from the seizure itself) is the risk of injury from falling (often likened to a tree falling).   Tonic seizure tend to last no longer than 10 seconds.

Drivelan - leer másClonic Seizures – These describe repeated and rhythmic contractions of the muscles, causing twitches and jerks of limbs or the whole body.   They tend to last between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes, although can last longer.

Tonic Clonic Seizures – These types of seizures are what many think of when considering what a seizure is, and is often referred to as a Grand-mal.   This type of seizure is a combination of the tonic and clonic types with the clonic phase, i.e. rhythmic jerking coming after the tonic phase, i.e. sudden stiffness.

Myoclonic – These are sudden jerks affecting any part of the body and last for a split second.

Atonic Seizures – Also known as Astatic seizures.   These involve a sudden loss of muscle tone, i.e. a sudden relaxation of the muscles.   These last for no more than a few seconds.

Absence Seizures -   Also known as Petit-mal.   Usually the person described as going into a sudden daydream state and is completely unaware of there surroundings.   These tend to last no more than 30 seconds, although can be longer.

Partial Seizures – This type of seizure is where the person retains consciousness throughout.   Generally these involve sensory stimuli such as a strange rising feeling in the stomach, strange taste, a feeling of déjà vu, or an unexplained fear.

Complex Partial Seizures – This is where the consciousness is affected, and may result in behaviour which seems odd or bizarre e.g. taking clothes off in the street. The person may look confused and even dazed.

Can you have more than one type of seizure?

Yes – Some seizures begin with a partial seizure which they might refer to as their warning signal, and progress to a Tonic Clonic seizure, these are known as secondary generalised tonic clonic seizures.   Other people might get a mixture of 2 or 3 different seizure types.

What causes epilepsy?

In over half of epilepsy cases there is no known cause, they are what is known as Idiopathic.   In others the epilepsy may have been caused by a head injury, an infection of the brain such as meningitis or by a brain tumour, or by being starved of oxygen at birth.   Epilepsy where the cause is known is referred to as symptomatic.

Is there a genetic link?

Probably, especially with primary (idiopathic) generalised epilepsy, although not where the epilepsy is thought to be symptomatic.

Can the flickering of the Television or Computer bring on a seizure?

Yes, although this is extremely rare, and occurs in a condition know as photosensitive epilepsy, which only affects 2-3% of those who have epilepsy.

Is epilepsy linked to low intelligence?

No – Epilepsy can occur in anyone regardless of intelligence.   Nevertheless those who have brain damage or whose brains have not developed properly are more likely to have epilepsy.

Some famous people diagnosed with epilepsy include, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Richard Burton to name but a few.

Even though I have epilepsy, can I drive?

Yes – However the Law states that:-

A licence can be granted if the applicant with epilepsy satisfies the following conditions:-

They must have been free from any epileptic seizure for one year immediately preceding the date from which the licence is to have effect.


They have experienced seizures only whilst asleep for a period of three years immediately preceding the date from which the licence is to have effect.


In both cases, the applicant is unlikely to be a source of danger to the public.

When a person has had a single seizure with no previous history, they must inform the DVLA, failure to do so automatically renders the persons licence and insurance null and void.

Regarding LGV/PSV – A person with a history of seizures can drive a large Goods or Public Service Vehicle if they have been free from epileptic seizures for 10 years, and have not taken anti-epileptic medication for 10 years, and have been declared medically fit to drive by a DVLA nominated consultant.

Am I entitled to any benefit?

Probably – You may be entitled to Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance, Disabled Persons Tax Credit or Incapacity Benefit.   Our advice is to contact your   local Citizens Advice Bureau or Welfare Rights Centre and ask them to carry out a benefits checklist.   People with epilepsy are also entitled to a free Bus Pass and free prescriptions.

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