Clinical update

Epilepsy

More than 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, a condition that causes repeated seizures.

Essential facts

More than 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated seizures. Frequency and type of seizure vary widely from person to person. Anti-epilepsy medication can control seizures in around 70% of people. One in five people with epilepsy has a learning disability.

One third of deaths of people with epilepsy in England are avoidable through better care, treatment and services, according to a campaign by the Epilepsy Society. Figures show that a person with the condition is two to three times more likely to die prematurely, but data from the Office for National Statistics from 2009-2013 show that rates of premature death vary vastly in England. Someone with epilepsy is 49% more likely to die prematurely in West Yorkshire than in Cheshire. The Epilepsy Society wants more information available on the causes of deaths, and the care areas where

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Essential facts

More than 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated seizures. Frequency and type of seizure vary widely from person to person. Anti-epilepsy medication can control seizures in around 70% of people. One in five people with epilepsy has a learning disability.

One third of deaths of people with epilepsy in England are avoidable through better care, treatment and services, according to a campaign by the Epilepsy Society. Figures show that a person with the condition is two to three times more likely to die prematurely, but data from the Office for National Statistics from 2009-2013 show that rates of premature death vary vastly in England. Someone with epilepsy is 49% more likely to die prematurely in West Yorkshire than in Cheshire. The Epilepsy Society wants more information available on the causes of deaths, and the care areas where there is greatest need for improvement.

The main symptom is repeated seizures. There are many different types, which are divided into partial seizures and generalised seizures. Partial seizures usually involve only one area of the brain and symptoms can include the sensation of ‘pins and needles’ in limbs, intense feelings of joy or fear and losing sense of awareness. In generalised seizures most or all of the brain is involved, which can include absences (‘blanking out’), jerking and twitching, and loss of consciousness.

Epilepsy can start at any age, but it most often begins during childhood. For many cases of epilepsy a reason is not known. In some cases, especially when epilepsy is developed later in life, the condition is associated with damage to the brain such as strokes, brain tumours and severe head injuries.

People with epilepsy must always be encouraged to adhere to treatment regimes and to take medication at the right time to minimise the number of seizures they have. Encourage healthy lifestyles, as alcohol, lack of sleep and stress can be additional triggers for seizures. High numbers of people with epilepsy experience anxiety and depression and this needs to be identified and treated early.


Expert comment

Juliet Ashton, nurse consultant for commissioning and education at the Epilepsy Society

‘People with epilepsy need personalised care. There are around 40 different types of epilepsy, and seizures vary from person to person. People with epilepsy should be encouraged to inform those they spend time with what action to take during and after their seizure. Safety measures such as individual risk assessments, taking medication, using seizure alarms and anti-suffocation pillows at night may help reduce avoidable deaths.

‘People need support, access to information and time to talk when diagnosed, as it is an unpredictable condition with stigma and myths surrounding it. Nurses need time to be responsive and flexible as it can take a while to recover from seizures.’


Find out more

NICE guidance: Epilepsies: diagnosis and management (2012)

Epilepsy Society

Free app

Risk assessment forms

Epilepsy in Mind – Anxiety and Depression. A Guide for Healthcare Professionals (2014)

Learning Disability Practice: How service users are supported to understand their epilepsy (2015)

Nursing Standard: The psychosocial effect of epilepsy on adolescents and young adults (2011)

Nursing Older People: Care of older people with epilepsy (2011)

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