What is epilepsy/seizure disorder*?

The brain contains millions of nerve cells called neurons. They “communicate” with each other with small electric signals. For example, a signal will travel from one nerve cell to another, “telling” certain muscles to contract when you want to move your hand. This all happens so often and so fast, we are not even aware of it. A seizure happens when there is a sudden, big surge of electrical activity between nerve cells in the brain. This can cause things like unusual body movements, behavior changes, and passing out. Often people are not conscious or aware of things around them while this is happening.

Seizures are not a mental health problem. Epilepsy is a neurological condition. It is not completely understood, but more and more is learned every day. The neurologists who specialize in epilepsy try to keep up with all the new learning.

Having one seizure does not mean a child has epilepsy. Many people will have one seizure sometime in their lives. Things that can cause a seizure are fever, head injury, drug use, alcohol use, or sleep deprivation.1 A child has epilepsy when there have been two or more seizures without a clear cause. About three million Americans have epilepsy. About half of all the new cases each year are children and adolescents. It happens to children of all ages and can affect them in different ways.2

*Some people use the term “seizure disorder” instead of “epilepsy” to describe this condition. In fact, both terms mean the same thing - a tendency to experience seizures.

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