5 Things You Should Know About Epilepsy

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How much do you know about epilepsy? Get the facts!

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures. There are many different types of epilepsy and many different kinds of seizures. Epilepsy can get in the way of life, mostly when seizures keep happening. To control their seizures, people with epilepsy may take medicine, have surgery, or follow a special diet.

Here’s what you need to know:

#1 Epilepsy is common.
In fact, you probably know a few people with epilepsy. In 2015, about 3 million adults (age 18 and older) and 470,000 children (age 17 or younger) had active epilepsy in the United States.1 That’s about 3.4 million people, which is more than the number of people who live in Delaware, Montana, and New Hampshire combined. 2

#2 Seizures may look different than you expect.
What comes to mind when you think of a seizure? In the movies and on TV, they often show a person falling to the ground, shaking, and becoming unaware of what’s going on around them. That’s one kind of seizure, but it’s not the most common. More often, a person having a seizure may seem confused, stare into space, wander, make unusual movements, or can’t answer questions or talk. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a person is having a seizure, so it’s important to learn how to recognize different types of seizures.

Young boy rests his head on his hand and stares out a window.

Seizures may not look like you’d expect. Learn to spot the signs of seizures and how to help.

#3 Seizure first aid is easy to give.
About 1 in 10 people may have a seizure during their lifetime.3 That means seizures are common, and one day you may need to help someone. First aid for seizures involves keeping the person safe until the seizure stops on its own and knowing when to call 911.

It’s also important that professionals such as school nurses and other school staff, law enforcement, first responders, and childcare workers understand epilepsy and how to offer first aid. CDC supports free training programs for these groups through a partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation.

#4 People with epilepsy can lead full lives.
Most people with epilepsy can do the same things that people without epilepsy can do. There are many successful people with epilepsy who work in medicine, sports, entertainment, government, and other professions.

People with uncontrolled seizures or severe types of epilepsy face more challenges and may find it harder to work or go to school regularly. Some adults with epilepsy have a hard time finding jobs, transportation, and affordable medical care. Learn about resources that can help on CDC’s Find Support page.

#5 Some causes of epilepsy are preventable.

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People with epilepsy need others to understand their condition. Get the facts!

Epilepsy can be caused by different conditions that affect a person’s brain. Many times, doctors don’t know the cause. Traumatic brain injuries, stroke, certain infections (such as cysticercosis, which is the leading cause of epilepsy worldwide), lack of oxygen during birth, and some birth defects are examples of preventable causes of epilepsy. Learn more about preventing epilepsy and reducing your risk.

More Information


  1. Zack MM, Kobau R. National and state estimates of the numbers of adults and children with active epilepsy — United States, 2015. MMWR. 2017;66:821–825. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6631a1.html
  2. United States Census Bureau. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019external icon. Accessed February 5, 2020.
  3. Hauser WA, et al. Descriptive epidemiology of epilepsy: Contributions of population-based studies from Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 1996;71(6):576-86.