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What is Epilepsy?

• Epilepsy is a medical condition in which abnormal surges of electrical activity in the brain interfere with normal mental and physical functions. These are called seizures. People with epilepsy can live normal lives, but chronic difficulties with memory, attention, and language can make every day a challenge.

• The term “seizure” is often used interchangeably with “convulsion.” Convulsions occur when a person’s body shakes uncontrollably without warning. During convulsions, the person’s muscles contract and relax repeatedly. Seizures vary from shaking movements to losing consciousness, falling to the ground, or simply “spacing out” for a period of time.

• If a person has more than one seizure they are considered to have epilepsy.

Epilepsy Facts

• Seizures are not contagious.

• People with epilepsy can live normal lives, but chronic difficulties with memory, attention, and language can make every day a challenge.

• Three million people in the United States have some form of epilepsy. This is more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease combined.

• Funding for epilepsy research lags far behind other neurological afflictions, at $35 a patient. (compared, for instance, with $129 for Alzheimer’s and $280 for multiple sclerosis)

• There are 200,000 new cases of epilepsy each year, almost 50,000 of them children.

• In 50% of cases, seizures are controlled with one medication, but in 1 out of 3 people, the seizures cannot be completely controlled.

• In the U.S., epilepsy is as common as breast cancer and takes as many lives each year.

Additional Resources

Epilepsy Foundation

Cure Epilepsy

Mass General Hospital Pediatric Epilepsy Program

Seizure First Aid

If you see someone having a seizure:

• [B]e Calm

• [R]emove dangerous objects

• [A]lways time the seizure

• [I]f person has fallen, turn on side & put something soft under head

• [N]ever put anything in mouth and never hold a person down

Call 911 for

• A first time seizure

• A seizure that lasts longer than five minutes

• Person is injured, pregnant or has diabetes

• Seizure occurs in water

• Person does not resume consciousness or normal breathing

• Person has no ID stating they have epilepsy

How to Talk to Kids About Seizures

As a Parent to a child with epilepsy

As a child experiencing epilepsy, it can be uncomfortable and difficult to talk about this medical condition. It’s important to communicate with the child that they did nothing wrong. Seizures are caused by parts of the brain not communicating to each other. Seizures can cause the body to move in different and odd ways. Seizures are a medical condition treated by a doctor known as a neurologist. Kids with seizures may need more time to do their schoolwork. Kids with seizures can be good friends, good students and have lots of talents.

As a friend to a child with epilepsy

Seizures should never stop a kid from having fun or making friends. Kids with seizures need friendship and support and should never be the victim of bullying or alienation. Although your friend has changed due to seizures and can’t participate in the same activities as you doesn’t mean they no longer want to be your friend. It may mean the child needs your friendship and support on a deeper level. Reach out to them and see if there is anything they need or would like to discuss. Epilepsy isn’t anything to be ashamed of and should not determine the value of your friendship. Don’t let epilepsy prevent you from being a good friend.

Discussing epilepsy

Whether you are a friend or family member to someone affected by epilepsy, the most important message you can give is that people with epilepsy are humans, too. They deserve respect, understanding, love, and kindness, not teasing or torment. It’s healthy to ask questions while using language and explanations that are appropriate for the forum. Complex medical jargon can confuse those affected by epilepsy and make them feel alienated and lost. Just speak to them in the same terms you would when referencing other things. Above all, always speak the truth, encourage questions, and treat those with epilepsy with the respect they deserve.