Facts about epilepsy

There are a number of misunderstandings about epilepsy and the terminology used to describe epilepsy.

Current facts and figures

  • Epilepsy is a tendency to have recurring seizures.
  • There are many different seizure types and seizure syndromes.
  • Epilepsy is not just one condition; there are many forms of epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy can affect anyone- any age, any background, any level of intelligence.
  • Around 2% of people will develop epilepsy at some stage in their life.
  • Approx. 100,000 children and adults in Queensland will acquire epilepsy during their lifetime.

Common misconceptions about epilepsy

  • Epilepsy is NOT contagious- you cannot "catch" epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy is NOT a mental illness- it's a neurological condition.
  • Epilepsy is NOT always convulsive (shaking-falling) seizures. There are many different types of seizures.

Terminology and labels to be avoided

  • Illness - epilepsy is a neurological condition, not an illness.
  • Disorder - epilepsy is a disease, not a disorder.
  • Fit - the term seizure is preferred. There are many different types of seizures. A convulsion is a term for a seizure involving stiffening and jerking of the body. ‘Fit’ implies willful outbursts, like a ‘tantrum’, or loss of emotional control.
  • Victim or sufferer – this implies someone who is helpless. Most people with epilepsy want your understanding, but not your pity.
  • Epileptic – a person with epilepsy is a more appropriate term to use. Like most of us, people with epilepsy dislike labels. These feelings can be explained by the phrase ‘epilepsy is what I have, not who I am’.
  • Grand Mal or Petit Mal – these are terms once used to describe seizures. We now understand there are many different types of seizures, so these terms are too general, outdated and inappropriate to use.
  • Controlled – seizures may be controlled with medication. The term ‘controlled epileptic’ implies the person needs to be restrained in some way.