What is Epilepsy

A neurological disorder of the brain characterized by sudden brief changes in the brain’s electrical impulses which can cause changes in consciousness and other physical and mental functions.  These disruptions are called seizures. Click here to learn more about managing epilepsy.


Seizure Disorders

There are many different forms of seizures, which are grouped into two major categories:

Generalized seizures which affect the whole brain:

  • Tonic-clonic (Grand Mal) – a person undergoes convulsions which usually last from two to five minutes, with complete loss of consciousness and muscle spasms.
  • Absence (Petit Mal) – a blank stare, beginning and ending abruptly, lasting only a few seconds, most common in children.
  • Myoclonic – a brief, massive muscle jerk affecting one or more limbs.
  • Atonic (Drop Attacks) – a person suddenly collapses due to brief loss of muscle tone. Seizure does not last more than 15 seconds.

 Partial seizures which affect one part of the brain:

  • Simple Partial – a person remains awake and aware and may feel intense emotions, smells, or tastes or may experience involuntary muscle twitching depending on the area of brain affected.  Seizure typically does not last for more than two minutes.
  • Complex Partial (Psychomotor or Temporal Lobe) – a person is unaware and unresponsive and exhibits purposeless behaviors or motions (i.e. lipsmacking, chewing, picking at clothes).  May be mistaken for alcohol or drug intoxication.


In up to 70% of cases the cause is unknown or idiopathic. Idiopathic causes are more common in children than in adults. Major head trauma is the leading known cause of seizures. Possible known causes of epilepsy are:

  • Brain Injury
  • Embryonic/fetal brain development problems
  • Birth problems and injuries
  • Certain infections (meningitis, viral encephalitis, mumps, measles)
  • Head Trauma
  • Drug/Alcohol abuse
  • Stroke
  • Brain Tumor


Every person has a “seizure threshold” and under certain conditions, anybody can experience a seizure. Situations that can push a person over individual thresholds are called “triggers.” Common Seizure Triggers:

  • Missed seizure medication
  • Lack of sleep
  • Drug/Alcohol Abuse
  • Stress
  • Hyperventilation
  • Fever/cold
  • Menstruation


  • Epilepsy is a contagious disease
  • Epilepsy is a curse
  • A person can swallow their tongue during a seizure
  • People with epilepsy are usually developmentally challenged
  • People with epilepsy are violent or crazy
  • People with epilepsy are mentally ill
  • Epilepsy is not a barrier to success



A doctor, neurologist or epileptologist can diagnose epilepsy. Physical and neurological exams help the doctor uncover any trace of epilepsy in the body. Evaluations performed include:

  • Detailed and careful description of seizure
  • Personal and family medical history
  • Physical/neurological exam
  • EEG, MRI, CT

The Florida Epilepsy Alliance

Works with thousands of clients in 29 Florida counties to:

  • Navigate their diagnosis
  • Sponsor medical services
  • Access prescription assistance
  • Connect with community resources
  • Advocate for epilepsy programs and resources
  • Educate communities
  • Promote prevention
  • Provide hope and support