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5 Facts About Epilepsy That Aren’t Well Known

Posted on August 16, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

If you or a loved one is living with epilepsy, you’ve probably spent a lot of time researching the condition and trying to understand the most essential information about its causes, symptoms, and progression. But even the most detail-oriented researchers may not know every fact about epilepsy, because the disease has so many variables.

Getting to know these five facts about epilepsy can deepen your understanding of the condition. Ultimately, more knowledge can empower you to self-advocate as you travel along your epilepsy journey.

Fact 1: More Than 40 Types of Seizures Exist

Not everyone with epilepsy experiences the same types of seizures — in fact, there are actually more than 40 different kinds of seizures.

Some people experiencing a seizure may look as though they’re staring blankly into space (called an absence seizure). Others may wander and experience confusion (such as in complex focal seizures). Some might fall down and shake (such as in tonic-clonic seizures).

A person with epilepsy can experience multiple types of seizures within their lifetime.

Fact 2: Flashing Lights Trigger a Small Fraction of Epileptic Seizures

Flashing lights can trigger epileptic seizure activity in approximately 3 percent of people with epilepsy. The condition, known as photosensitive epilepsy, can also be caused by exposure to certain types of visual patterns. Most commonly, it’s found in younger people, and the frequency of seizures decreases with age.

Other elements of light that can potentially trigger seizures in people with epilepsy included its brightness, contrast to the background, frequency of flashes, and wavelength.

Fact 3: Seizure-Detecting Dogs Can’t Always Warn Humans Ahead of Time

You may hear or read conflicting information about the potential capabilities of seizure-detecting dogs. Although some media sources suggest that trained dogs can dependably warn humans about oncoming seizures, that’s not necessarily the case.

Research shows that dogs can detect seizures before they happen because of a smell that humans can’t sense. However, dogs cannot be trained to warn humans about every oncoming seizure. Despite this, trained dogs can still be incredibly helpful for many people living with epilepsy, because they can assist during and after seizures. Additionally, although some dogs may sometimes exhibit behaviors to warn you about an imminent seizure, there is no guarantee they will do so every time.

Fact 4: There Is No Singular Test To Diagnose Epilepsy

There is no one test that a doctor can use to determine definitively whether or not someone has epilepsy. Instead, doctors rely on a full picture of your medical history to determine whether or not your signs and symptoms could be related to the condition.

Typically, a doctor will look at your current signs and symptoms and your medical history in conjunction with some tests, including neurological exams, blood tests, electroencephalograms (EEGs), and other types of brain scans — such as MRI, CT, positron emission tomography (PET), or magnetoencephalography.

Fact 5: Some Children Will Become Seizure-Free Without Medication

Not everyone who develops epilepsy will experience seizures throughout their life. There is a 70 percent chance that a child who gets tonic-clonic seizures (also known as convulsive seizures) but has a normal EEG scan will stop having seizures without the help of any medication. It’s more likely that this will happen if their seizures are generalized, rather than starting on one side of the brain.

For a child who gets tonic-clonic seizures and who presents abnormalities in brain exams, the chance of being seizure-free without the help of medicine is reduced to 30 percent.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEpilepsyTeam is the social network for people with epilepsy and their loved ones. On MyEpilepsyTeam, more than 97,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with epilepsy.

Which epilepsy facts do you find the most compelling? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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