Epilepsy

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a serious and common brain condition that causes repeated seizures. The seizures are like electrical storms that briefly interrupt the brain's normal activity. 

The severity and frequency of seizures varies from person to person, depending on their type of epilepsy, and the area of their brain affected.

Whilst epilepsy is not usually life-threatening, around 1,000 people die every year in the UK because of their epilepsy. Around half of these deaths are 'sudden unexpected deaths in epilepsy', where someone is believed to have died during or after a seizure and no other cause of death can be found. 

Whilst some people may develop epilepsy as a result of a serious brain injury, the cause is unknown in most cases. 

Epilepsy: key stats

Around 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy - one in 100 people. 

Around 87 people are diagnosed with epilepsy every day in the UK. 

Epilepsy can start at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed in people under 20 or over 65 years of age.

Treatment

Epilepsy is usually a long-term or lifelong condition. In most people it can be well-managed using anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), with little impact on day-to-day life. 

AEDs help to prevent seizures, or reduce their frequency. They work by controlling electrical activity in the brain. They do not cure epilepsy, nor do they stop seizures whilst they are happening. 

AEDs don't work for everyone with epilepsy. Other treatment options include: 

  • Ketogenic diet - this is a high fat, low carbohydrate, controlled protein diet. It is an established treatment option for children with hard-to-control epilepsy, but is very specialised and should only be carried out under strict medical supervision. 
  • Vagus nerve stimulation - this involves a stimulator that is connected to the left vagus nerve in the neck. The stimulator sends mild electrical signals to help calm the irregular brain activity that leads to seizures. 
  • Epilepsy surgery - this may involve either removal of the specific area of the brain that is thought to be causing the seizures, or separation of this area from the rest of the brain. 
  • Deep brain stimulation - this involves implantation of electrodes into the brain, controlled by a stimulator implanted in the chest that acts like a pace-maker for the brain.  

How we help

Brain Research UK has invested vital funds in epilepsy research, to help understand the condition and why it occurs, improve treatments, and work towards a cure.

  • We are funding PhD student Lorenzo Caciagli at UCL Institute of Neurology. Lorenzo using MRI techniques to take forward our understanding of the different types of epilepsy and, in particular, how they progress over time. He is looking beyond the seizures that characterise epilepsy to study how the disease affects other aspects of brain function. 
  • We are funding PhD student Mikail Weston, also at UCL Institute of Neurology. Mikail is also focused on the evolution/ progression of epilepsy over time, specifically a process known as secondary epileptogenesis whereby recurrent seizures cause damage to the brain, in turn giving rise to more seizures. 
  • We funded PhD student Roman Praschberger, who was awarded his PhD from UCL in 2018. Roman studied a severe epilepsy syndrome called progressive myoclonus epilepsy, taking forward our understanding of this devastating disorder. Read more. 
  • We have provided long-term funding for Professor Ludvic Zrinzo at UCL Institute of Neurology and his programme of research to develop and refine the use of deep brain stimulation, which is used in patients with a variety of conditions, including epilepsy. Read more.