Epilepsy

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Introduction

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.

Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works. They can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Epilepsy can start at any age, but usually starts either in childhood or in people over 60. It's often lifelong, but can sometimes get slowly better over time.

This page covers:

Symptoms

When to get medical help

Treatment

Living with epilepsy

Causes

Symptoms of epilepsy

Seizures can affect people in different ways, depending on which part of the brain is involved.

Possible symptoms include:

  • uncontrollable jerking and shaking - called a "fit"
  • losing awareness and staring blankly into space
  • becoming stiff
  • strange sensations - such as a "rising" feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs
  • collapsing

Sometimes you might pass out and not remember what happened.

Read more about the symptoms of epilepsy.

When to get medical help

See your GP if you think you might have had a seizure for the first time.

This doesn't mean you have epilepsy, as a seizure can have several causes and sometimes they're just a one-off, but you should see a doctor to find out why it happened.

Read about the tests for epilepsy you might have.

Call 999 for an ambulance if someone:

  • is having a seizure for the first time
  • has a seizure that lasts more than five minutes
  • has lots of seizures in a row
  • has breathing problems or has seriously injured themselves

Read about what to do if someone has a seizure.

Treatments for epilepsy

Treatment can help most people with epilepsy have fewer seizures or stop having seizures completely.

Treatments include:

  • medicines called anti-epileptic drugs - these are the main treatment
  • surgery to remove a small part of the brain that's causing the seizures
  • a procedure to put a small electrical device inside the body that can help control seizures
  • a special diet (ketogenic diet) that can help control seizures

Some people need treatment for life. But you might be able to stop treatment if your seizures disappear over time.

Read more about treatments for epilepsy.

Living with epilepsy

Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition, but most people with it are able to have normal lives if their seizures are well controlled.

Most children with epilepsy are able to go to a mainstream school, take part in most activities and sports, and get a job when they're older.

But you may have to think about your epilepsy before you do things such as driving, certain jobs, swimming, using contraception and planning a pregnancy.

Advice is available from your GP or support groups to help you adjust to life with epilepsy.

Read more about living with epilepsy.

Causes of epilepsy

In epilepsy, the electrical signals in the brain become scrambled and there are sometimes sudden bursts of electrical activity. This is what causes seizures.

In most cases, it's not clear why this happens. It's possible it could be partly caused by your genes affecting how your brain works, as around one in three people with epilepsy have a family member with it.

Occasionally, epilepsy can be caused by damage to the brain, such as damage from:


Symptoms

Symptoms

The main symptom of epilepsy is repeated seizures. These are sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works.

Seizures can affect people in different ways, depending on which part of the brain is involved.

Some seizures cause the body to jerk and shake (a "fit"), while others cause problems like loss of awareness or unusual sensations. They typically pass in a few seconds or minutes.

Seizures can occur when you're awake or asleep. Sometimes they can be triggered by something, such as feeling very tired.

This page covers:

Types of seizures

Seizure triggers

There's a separate page about what to do if someone has a seizure.

Types of seizures

Simple partial (focal) seizures or 'auras'

A simple partial seizure can cause:

  • a general strange feeling that's hard to describe
  • a "rising" feeling in your tummy - like the sensation in your stomach when on a fairground ride
  • a feeling that events have happened before (déjà vu)
  • unusual smells or tastes
  • tingling in your arms and legs
  • an intense feeling of fear or joy
  • stiffness or twitching in part of your body, such as an arm or hand

You remain awake and aware while this happens.

These seizures are sometimes known as "warnings" or "auras" because they can be a sign that another type of seizure is about to happen.

Complex partial (focal) seizures

During a complex partial seizure, you lose your sense of awareness and make random body movements, such as:

  • smacking your lips
  • rubbing your hands
  • making random noises
  • moving your arms around
  • picking at clothes or fiddling with objects
  • chewing or swallowing

You won't be able to respond to anyone else during the seizure and you won't have any memory of it.

Tonic-clonic seizures

A tonic-clonic seizure, previously known as a "grand mal", is what most people think of as a typical epileptic fit.

They happen in two stages - an initial "tonic" stage, shortly followed by a second "clonic" stage:

  1. tonic stage - you lose consciousness, your body goes stiff, and you may fall to the floor
  2. clonic stage - your limbs jerk about, you may lose control of your bladder or bowel, you may bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek, and you might have difficulty breathing

The seizure normally stops after a few minutes, but some last longer. Afterwards, you may have a headache or difficulty remembering what happened and feel tired or confused.

Absences

An absence seizure, which used to be called a "petit mal", is where you lose awareness of your surroundings for a short time. They mainly affect children, but can happen at any age.

During an absence seizure, a person may:

  • stare blankly into space
  • look like they're "daydreaming"
  • flutter their eyes
  • make slight jerking movements of their body or limbs

The seizures usually only last up to 15 seconds and you won't be able to remember them. They can happen several times a day.

Myoclonic seizures

A myoclonic seizure is where some or all of your body suddenly twitches or jerks, like you've had an electric shock. They often happen soon after waking up.

Myoclonic seizures usually only last a fraction of a second, but several can sometimes occur in a short space of time. You normally remain awake during them.

Clonic seizures

Clonic seizures cause the body to shake and jerk like a tonic-clonic seizure, but you don't go stiff at the start.

They typically last a few minutes and you might lose consciousness.

Tonic seizures

Tonic seizures cause all your muscles to suddenly become stiff, like the first stage of a tonic-clonic seizure.

This might mean you lose balance and fall over.

Atonic seizures

Atonic seizures cause all your muscles to suddenly relax, so you may fall to the ground.

They tend to be very brief and you'll usually be able to get up again straight away.

Status epilepticus

Status epilepticus is the name for any seizure that lasts a long time, or a series of seizures where the person doesn't regain consciousness in between.

It's a medical emergency and needs to be treated as soon as possible.

You can be trained to treat it if you look after someone with epilepsy. If you haven't had any training, call 999 for an ambulance immediately if someone has a seizure that hasn't stopped after five minutes.

Seizure triggers

For many people with epilepsy, seizures seem to happen randomly.

But sometimes they can have a trigger, such as:

  • stress
  • a lack of sleep
  • waking up
  • drinking alcohol
  • some medications and illegal drugs
  • in women, monthly periods
  • flashing lights (this is an uncommon trigger)

Keeping a diary of when you have seizures and what happened before them can help you identify and avoid some possible triggers.

Read more advice about living with epilepsy.

Want to know more?


Causes of epilepsy

Causes of epilepsy

In over half of epilepsy cases, a cause cannot be found. If there is an identifiable cause, it usually involves the brain being affected by a condition.

The brain is a delicate mix of nerve cells, electrical impulses and chemicals, known as neurotransmitters. Any damage has the potential to disrupt the workings of the brain and cause seizures.

There are two main categories of epilepsy:

  • idiopathic (or primary) epilepsy - where no apparent cause for epilepsy can be found, but there may be a family history, suggesting that the condition is inherited
  • symptomatic (or secondary) epilepsy - where there is a known cause for a person's epilepsy

Idiopathic epilepsy

In many cases, no cause of epilepsy is found. This may be because medical equipment is not advanced enough to spot some types of damage, or because the epilepsy has a genetic cause.

Many researchers have suggested that small genetic changes in the brain could be the cause of epilepsy. Current research is looking for defects in certain genes that may affect electrical transmission in the brain.

A number of studies have been carried out; however, no strong association has so far been found between any particular genes and the development of epilepsy.

Symptomatic epilepsy

Causes of symptomatic epilepsy can include:

Although some of these problems can cause epilepsy in childhood, symptomatic epilepsy is generally more common in older people - particularly those over 60 years of age.

Seizure triggers

For many people with epilepsy, seizures can occur without any obvious trigger. However, certain circumstances or the use of certain substances can sometimes precede a seizure. These include:

  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • drinking alcohol
  • some medications and illegal drugs
  • in women, monthly periods
  • flashing lights (this is an uncommon trigger that affects only 5% of people with epilepsy, and is known as photosensitive epilepsy)

Keeping a seizure diary is a good way to help find out what might trigger your seizures. Every time you have a seizure, record it and make a note of what you were doing. Over time, you might notice some potentially avoidable things that seem to trigger your symptoms.



Diagnosis

Diagnosis

If you have a seizure, your GP may refer you to a specialist to find out what caused it.

You'll usually see a doctor called a neurologist. This is someone who's an expert in conditions that affect the brain and nerves.

They'll want to find out more about your seizure and may suggest having some tests.

Waiting to see a specialist

You should see a specialist within two weeks of being referred.

There's a chance you could have another seizure while waiting for your appointment, so during this time it's best to avoid activities that could put you or others in danger if you were to have a seizure.

For example, you should avoid driving and swimming until you've seen a specialist.

Contact your GP for advice if you have another seizure while waiting for your appointment.

Finding out about your seizures

It can be hard to diagnose epilepsy quickly because other conditions, such as fainting, migraines and panic attacks, can cause similar symptoms. It often can't be confirmed until you've had more than one seizure.

It'll help your specialist if you can describe what you remember about your seizure in as much detail as possible, including things like:

  • when you had the seizure
  • what you were doing when it happened
  • how you felt before, during and afterwards

It may help to write some notes before your appointment and bring them with you.

It can also be very useful to bring along someone who's seen you have a seizure, or to bring a video recording of you having seizure if possible.

Tests for epilepsy

Your specialist may suggest having a test to check your brain activity called an electroencephalogram (EEG) or a brain scan to look for any problem in your brain.

But if these tests don't show anything, it's still possible you have epilepsy, and you may be diagnosed just based on your symptoms.

Checking your brain activity (EEG)

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is used to check for unusual electrical activity in the brain that can happen in people with epilepsy.

During the test, small sensors are attached to your scalp to pick up the electrical signals produced when brain cells send messages to each other.

These signals are recorded by a machine and are looked at to see if they're unusual.

Read more about EEGs.

Brain scan

A brain scan can help spot problems in your brain that can sometimes cause epilepsy, such as:

  • an unusual growth (brain tumour)
  • damage to the brain, such as damage caused by a stroke
  • scarring in the brain

The main scan used is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create an image of your brain.

The scanner is a large tube that you lie inside.

Read more about MRI scans.

Want to know more?


Treatment

Treatment

Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)

AEDs are the most commonly used treatment for epilepsy. They help control seizures in about 70% of people.

AEDs work by changing the levels of chemicals in your brain. They don't cure epilepsy, but can stop seizures happening.

Types of AEDs

There are many AEDs.

Common types include:

  • sodium valproate
  • carbamazepine
  • lamotrigine
  • levetiracetam
  • oxcarbazepine
  • ethosuximide
  • topiramate

The best type for you will depend on things like the type of seizures you have, your age and if you're thinking of having a baby.

Some AEDs can harm an unborn baby - see living with epilepsy for more information.

If your doctor recommends taking an AED, ask them about the different types available and which is likely to be the most suitable for you.

Taking AEDs

AEDs are available in a number of different forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids and syrups. You usually need to take the medicine every day.

Your specialist will start you on a low dose and gradually increase it until your seizures stop. If the first medicine you try doesn't work, your doctor may recommend trying another type.

It's important you follow any advice about when to take AEDs and how much to take. Never suddenly stop taking an AED - doing so could cause a seizure.

If you haven't had a seizure for a few years, ask your doctor if you might be able to stop treatment. If they think it's safe, your dose will be reduced gradually over time.

While taking AEDs, don't take any other medicines, including over-the-counter medicines or complementary medicines, without speaking to your GP or specialist. Other medicines could affect how well your AED works.

Side effects

Side effects are common when starting treatment with AEDs. Some may appear soon after starting treatment and pass in a few days or weeks, while others may not appear for a few weeks.

The side effects you may get depend on the medicine you're taking.

General common side effects of AEDs include:

  • drowsiness
  • a lack of energy
  • agitation
  • headaches
  • uncontrollable shaking (tremor)
  • hair loss or unwanted hair growth
  • swollen gums
  • rashes - contact your GP or specialist if you get a rash, as it might mean you're having a serious reaction to your medicine

Contact your GP or specialist if you experience symptoms similar to being drunk, such as unsteadiness, poor concentration and vomiting. This could mean your dose is too high.

For information about the side effects of your medicine, check the information leaflet that comes with it.

Want to know more?

Brain surgery

Surgery to remove part of your brain may be an option if:

  • AEDs aren't controlling your seizures
  • tests show that your seizures are caused by a problem in a small part of your brain that can be removed without causing serious effects

In these cases, there's a good chance that your seizures could stop completely after surgery.

Tests before surgery

If your epilepsy is poorly controlled after trying several AEDs, you may be referred to a specialist epilepsy centre to see if surgery might be possible.

This will usually involve having several tests, such as:

  • brain scans
  • an electroencephalogram (EEG) - a test of your brain's electrical activity
  • tests of your memory, learning abilities and mental health

The results of these tests will help you and your specialist decide if surgery is an option for you, and what the result of surgery might be.

What happens during surgery

Surgery for epilepsy is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, where you're asleep.

The surgeon makes a small cut in your scalp and creates an opening in your skull so they can remove the affected part of the brain.

The openings in your skull and scalp are closed at the end of the operation.

Recovery and risks

It's likely to take a few weeks or months for you to feel back to normal after surgery.

Your seizures may not stop straight away, so you might need to keep taking AEDs for a year or two.

There's a risk of complications from surgery, such as problems with your memory, mood or vision. These problems may improve over time, or they may be permanent.

Before having surgery, make sure you talk to your surgeon about the possible risks.

Want to know more?

Other procedures

If AEDs aren't controlling your seizures and brain surgery isn't suitable for you, there are other procedures that could help.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is where a small electrical device similar to a pacemaker is placed under the skin of your chest.

The device is attached to a wire that goes under your skin and connects to a nerve in your neck called the vagus nerve. Bursts of electricity are sent along the wire to the nerve.

It's thought this can help control seizures by changing the electrical signals in the brain.

VNS doesn't usually stop seizures completely, but it can help make them less severe and less frequent. You'll probably still need to take AEDs.

Side effects of VNS include a hoarse voice, a sore throat and a cough when the device is activated. This normally occurs every five minutes and lasts for 30 seconds.

The battery for the VNS device typically lasts up to 10 years, after which time another procedure will be needed to replace it.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS)

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is similar to VNS, but the device placed in the chest is connected to wires that run directly into the brain.

Bursts of electricity sent along these wires can help prevent seizures by changing the electrical signals in the brain.

DBS is a fairly new procedure that's not used very often, so it's not yet clear how effective it is for epilepsy.

There are also some serious risks associated with it, including bleeding on the brain, depression and memory problems.

If your doctor suggests DBS as an option, make sure you talk to them about the potential benefits and risks.

Want to know more?

Ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet is a diet high in fats, and low in carbohydrates and protein. In children, it's thought it may make seizures less likely by changing the levels of chemicals in the brain.

It was one of the main treatments for epilepsy before AEDs were available, but isn't widely used in adults because a high-fat diet is linked to serious health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But a ketogenic diet is sometimes advised for children with seizures that aren't controlled by AEDs. This is because it's been shown to reduce the number of seizures in some children.

It should only be used under the supervision of an epilepsy specialist with the help of a dietitian.

Want to know more?

Complementary therapies

There are several complementary therapies that some people with epilepsy feel work for them. But none has been shown to reduce seizures conclusively in medical studies.

You should therefore be cautious about advice from anyone other than your GP or specialist to reduce or stop taking your medication and try alternative treatments. Stopping your medicine without medical supervision may cause seizures.

Herbal remedies should also be used cautiously because some of their ingredients can interact with epilepsy medication.

St John's Wort, a herbal remedy used for mild depression, isn't recommended for people with epilepsy because it can affect the levels of epilepsy medication in the blood and may stop the medicine working properly.

For some people with epilepsy, stress can trigger seizures. Stress-relieving and relaxation therapies such as exercise, yoga and meditation may help.

Want to know more?

living-with

Living with

Controlling your seizures

Seizures can be dangerous, so it's important to try to keep them as well controlled as possible. There are several things you can do to help.

Take your medicine

Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) can be very effective in stopping or reducing the frequency of seizures.

If you've been prescribed an AED, make sure you take it every day as advised by your doctor.

Tell your doctor if your medicine is causing unpleasant side effects. Don't skip doses or stop taking it without getting medical advice, as this could cause you to have a seizure.

You might need to try several AEDs to find one that works for you and doesn't cause troublesome side effects.

You may eventually be able to stop taking your medicine once your seizures have been under control for some time, but this should be done gradually under medical supervision.

Identify and avoid seizure triggers

While not the case for everyone with epilepsy, seizures can sometimes have a trigger. Common seizure triggers include stress, lack of sleep and alcohol.

Keeping a seizure diary - detailing when you have seizures and what you were doing beforehand - may help you work out if you have any triggers.

You can download a blank seizure diary (PDF, 153kb) from the Epilepsy Action website.

If you identify any triggers, doing what you can to avoid them can help reduce the number of seizures you have.

For example, it might help to:

Have regular reviews

You'll have regular reviews of your epilepsy and treatment. These are usually carried out by your GP, but sometimes may be done by your epilepsy specialist and their team.

Reviews should be carried out at least once a year, although you may need them more often if your epilepsy isn't well controlled.

These appointments are a good opportunity to talk to your doctor about how you feel your treatment is going and any problems you're having, such as side effects from your medicine.

Want to know more?

Staying safe

Having seizures can sometimes put you or others at risk of harm - for example, if they happen while you're cooking, driving or swimming.

If your seizures aren't well controlled, there are things you can do to reduce the danger.

At home

Some tips to help you stay safe at home include:

  • use guards on heaters and radiators to stop you falling directly on to them
  • install smoke detectors to let you know that food is burning if you sometimes forget what you're doing or have seizures that cause you to lose awareness
  • cover any furniture edges or corners that are sharp or stick out
  • have a shower instead of a bath
  • don't lock the bathroom door
  • place saucepans on the back burners and with the handles turned away from the edge of the cooker

Want to know more?

Sports and leisure

Most people with epilepsy can take part in sports and other leisure activities, but there are some precautions you might need to take if your seizures aren't well controlled.

For example, you may need to:

  • avoid swimming or doing water sports on your own
  • wear a helmet while cycling or horse riding
  • avoid using certain types of gym equipment - ask staff at the gym for advice

Want to know more?

Driving

You must stop driving and tell the Driving and Vehicle Licence Authority (DVLA) if you've had a seizure.

Your licence may be taken away until your seizures are under control.

When you can reapply for a licence depends on the type of seizure you had - for example, if you've had seizures that caused you to lose consciousness, you won't be able to reapply until you haven't had a seizure for at least a year.

Want to know more?

Pregnancy and contraception

Getting pregnant

Epilepsy doesn't affect your ability to have children and there's no reason why you can't have a healthy pregnancy.

But if you're thinking of trying for a baby, it's best to discuss your plans with your doctor.

This is because some AEDs - particularly sodium valproate - can harm an unborn baby. Your doctor may suggest switching to another AED if there's any risk to your baby.

If you suddenly find out you're pregnant, contact your doctor for advice as soon as possible. Don't stop taking your medicine without speaking to them first.

There are no risks associated with breastfeeding while taking AEDs.

Want to know more?

Using contraception

If you don't wish to get pregnant, it's important to use a reliable form of contraception.

Ask your doctor about the best type of contraception to use, as some AEDs can affect how certain contraceptives work, including the combined contraceptive pill.

Methods of contraception that aren't affected by AEDs include the:

It's also a good idea to use a condom as well.

Speak to your GP, a pharmacist or a family planning clinic if you need emergency contraception. You may need to have an IUD fitted.

Want to know more?

School and education

Children with epilepsy can usually attend a mainstream school and participate fully in school activities.

Make sure your child's school and teachers are aware of their condition, including:

  • what medication your child takes
  • how to spot and deal with a seizure
  • the impact their epilepsy may have on their attendance and schoolwork - for example, epilepsy can sometimes affect behaviour and concentration

Some children with epilepsy need extra support to get the most out of their time at school.

Speak to the school if your child has special educational needs so you can discuss the support your child needs and what the school can offer.

Want to know more?

Work, money and benefits

Working with epilepsy

If your epilepsy is well controlled, it may not have any effect on your work.

Speak to your employer if your condition makes it difficult to do your job. They're required to make reasonable adjustments to your work tasks to allow you to keep working.

This may include things like:

  • changing your work hours
  • making sure you don't have to drive as part of your job
  • giving written rather than spoken instructions
  • letting you have extra breaks and time off for medical appointments

Want to know more?

If you have to stop working

If you have to stop work or work part-time because of your epilepsy, you may be entitled to one or more of the following types of financial support:

Free prescriptions

If you take AEDs, you're entitled to get all your prescriptions (not just those for AEDs) free of charge.

Ask your doctor how to get an exemption certificate.

Want to know more?

Support groups

There are two main epilepsy support groups that you might find a useful source of information and advice.

Epilepsy Action

Support available from Epilepsy Action includes:

Epilepsy Society

Support available from the Epilepsy Society includes:

Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP)

Sometimes a person with epilepsy dies during or after a seizure for no obvious reason. This is known as sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).

This is rare, but it's important to be aware of the danger because it may sometimes be preventable.

The main thing you can do to reduce your risk is to make sure your epilepsy is well controlled by taking your medication as recommended and avoiding seizure triggers when possible.

If you're worried your epilepsy is poorly controlled, contact your epilepsy specialist. It may be possible to refer you to a specialist epilepsy centre for further treatment.

A charity called SUDEP Action can offer advice and support, as well as a helpline for people who've lost a loved one as a result of epilepsy.

Want to know more?

'I can't remember my wedding day or the birth of my first child'

'I can't remember my wedding day or the birth of my first child'

Mark Kellaway, from Basingstoke, found out he had epilepsy at the age of 26. He hadn't realised he was having seizures, but the diagnosis has had an unexpectedly positive effect.

"I think I'd had epilepsy for a while before I realised anything was wrong. It wasn't until I moved in with my girlfriend Ruth, who is now my wife, that she noticed it and made me see a doctor.

"At first I thought she was joking. I'd been living with my parents and they hadn't noticed anything. I think they just thought I was occasionally being odd or drifting off.

"I have left temporal lobe epilepsy with complex partial seizures. I go blank, stare into space and dribble. I don't respond to anything. I'm not aware it's happening. Apparently it lasts about one minute.

"It normally happens in the evening and at night when I'm asleep. Ruth says I make strange sounds, worse than snoring.

"Sometimes I feel a bit odd afterwards, similar to the early stages of being drunk. I can carry on doing normal tasks, but later on I'm surprised that I've done them. I'm not aware that time has passed. How often the seizures happen varies, but on average it's once or twice a week." 

"The GP tested my blood sugar levels and didn't find anything. I decided to see a second GP. He immediately said it seemed like epilepsy. He sent me for a variety of tests, including an EEG (electroencephalogram) to monitor my brain activity.

"I was shocked to hear that it was epilepsy. I thought people with epilepsy fell on the floor and wriggled about [a tonic-clonic seizure]. Like most people, I didn't know that there were other forms.

"I've had one tonic-clonic seizure, about six months after my diagnosis. It was the day after my stag party. I was eating out with my parents and close friends and, just as our food arrived, I had a seizure. I fell unconscious on the floor and was taken to hospital in an ambulance." 

"The diagnosis had a huge effect on my life. I started taking medication to control the seizures and I stopped drinking alcohol. But the biggest change was losing my driving licence. You can't drive if you have epilepsy.

"At the time I drove 25 miles every day to my job designing a website for a charity. I tried public transport, but it involved a bus, two or three trains and a lift from colleagues. They were all very helpful, but it was too hard, so I left my job.

"This turned out to be positive, because it meant I became a stay-at-home dad, which I love. Ruth was pregnant when I left my job. When our daughter was born, we had the first four months at home together getting used to life with a newborn baby.

"I was very scared the day before Ruth went back to work. Looking after the baby on my own felt like a big responsibility, but it was fantastic. We already had a daily routine, so I knew what I needed to do and when. I took the baby out as much as I could, mainly for walks. My daughter is now five and she has a two-year-old sister, so I look after them both."

"I've taken seven types of medication since my diagnosis. Some of them have made things worse, and some have made things better, but none of them has solved the problem. At the moment, I'm on three drugs.

"The main side effect is having a poor memory. It's terrible. I remember random and pointless things, but I don't really remember things such as our wedding day. It feels strange looking at the photos. I know I was there and had a great time, but I can't remember much, which is very sad.

"Another side effect of the drugs is that I've lost weight. I used to be a bit overweight at 15 stone 3 pounds; now I'm 10 stone 8 pounds, which is good, although sometimes I think I've lost a bit too much.

"At home, we try to keep things as normal as possible. Avoiding alcohol made no difference to my seizures, so now I can enjoy a glass of wine in the evening. I hope to stay at home until the girls are at school, then I'll get a local job.

"I would never have considered being a stay-at-home dad if I hadn't been diagnosed with epilepsy. I have so much fun being with my girls. I've enjoyed seeing them grow up right in front of me. Although I was devastated when I was diagnosed, it's had a positive impact on our lives."

Since this interview, Mark has had an operation to remove his left temporal lobe the part of his brain that was involved in his seizures. The operation was a success and he has not had a seizure since. Although he knows this might not be a permanent solution to his condition, Mark hopes that things stay the way they are now.

Read about epilepsy treatment, including surgery.

'The day Richard Branson saved my life'

'The day Richard Branson saved my life'

Virgin co-founder and film guru Nik Powell talks about rock chicks, flicks and fits. 

"I remember having a fit outside a hotel in New York," says Nik Powell, co-founder of Virgin Records, who also has epilepsy. "When I finally came to, Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders, was looking over me."

You'd think this was the stuff of dreams: losing consciousness and waking up to see a rock legend. But it was just another day for Nik.

In the early 1970s, Nik set up Virgin Records with Richard Branson. It started out as a small mail order business, and the rest is history. He then turned his magic touch to films, as the executive producer on movies including Fever Pitch, The Crying Game, Little Voice and Absolute Beginners. His most recent film was Ladies in Lavender, starring Dame Judi Dench.

In his latest role, as the director of the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, Nik is as busy as ever. He has never let epilepsy hold him back.

Nik's health problems were triggered by an accident when he was eight years old. He crashed his dad's moped into the garden wall, injuring his head, and the fits began. "My first ever fit was in bed," he says. "I don't remember much apart from waking up to find my family fussing around me and feeling disoriented and sick."

For the next 30 years, he had similar seizures every few months. Nik controlled his fits by taking barbiturates (sedatives), but even on medication he used to have four to five fits a year. As a child with epilepsy, Nik says his worst problem was remembering to take his medication three times a day. He was also bullied. "Some kids gave me stick for my epilepsy," he says. "But I would simply laugh at them and point out all the famous epileptics from history, including Caesar, Napoleon, Dickens and Van Gogh."

He now claims to be an expert on hospitals around the world. "The Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA sticks in my mind," he recalls fondly. "I enjoyed being surrounded by the good-looking young nurses in short skirts and bobby socks. Perhaps they allow only pretty nurses to work in Hollywood!"

Nik is adamant that having epilepsy has never prevented him from doing anything he wanted in life. He puts his determination down to his parents. "My mother was a nurse in the war, so had witnessed some horrific stuff. She wasn't scared by my epilepsy as I know some other mothers are. My parents didn't want epilepsy to affect my life, plus I was one of five children so they probably weren't too worried about losing one!

"On another occasion, at the Virgin offices, I fell through a plate glass window. Richard Branson thought I was a goner because I was cut all over. There was blood everywhere. I don't remember any of this, but apparently Richard had everything cleared up in seconds. He just sprang into action."

About 10 years ago, Nik's seizures stopped entirely. He is now off his medication.

So what's next for Nik? "Well, I would love to make a film on epilepsy," he say. So watch out for it at a screen near you, because Nik Powell is a man who makes things happen.

'We know each other’s epilepsy very well'

'We know each other’s epilepsy very well'

For Stephen and Denise Wottrich, epilepsy is a family affair. They have similar forms of epilepsy, and at its worst it can cause up to 10 seizures a day. They say learning to look after each other has made them stronger.

Stephen's epilepsy began in his early teens. He was involved in a serious car accident, but doctors still don't know whether this is connected to his epilepsy.

Despite having seizures regularly, Stephen has lived a normal life. He joined the army and was sent to Germany. But the next day he was sent back to the UK, where he joined the civil service.

"I had wonderful work mates," he says. "They'd look after me during a seizure, then I'd wake up and get back behind my desk again. Occasionally I'd have to have a day off but I'd much rather work than not."

Denise's epilepsy also started early. "One day when I was 10, I collapsed in school assembly," she says. "I was taken to a specialist who diagnosed epilepsy." Again, nobody knew why the epilepsy had started.

Denise, too, refused to let her condition hold her back. She worked in the Hampshire Constabulary and lived with her parents until she met Stephen.

"She had been moved into my room in an epilepsy unit and I hadn't been told," says Stephen. "I came in to find her mum going through my underwear, which she assumed a former patient had left behind. But all I could see were Denise's beautiful eyes."

Neither Stephen nor Denise gets any warning signs, such as auras, before a fit. "But I can tell when Denise is going to have one, and she can tell when I'm going to have one," says Stephen. "I can sometimes stop her having one by rubbing the back of her neck and talking to her. We know each other's epilepsy very well."

When a seizure comes on, they make each other comfortable, ensuring that there's nothing around that could cause an injury.

So far, drug treatments haven't had much effect on the couple. Stephen says, "I've tried everything going," as has Denise. But they don't let their epilepsy get them down.

"I'm not saying I don't get depressed," says Denise. "Sometimes I think I must have done something very wrong to have this disease. But Stephen says that's not true. He says that we've been given epilepsy because we're strong enough to cope with it. He says we're special and I believe him."

The couple say that having epilepsy shouldn't mean you need to shut yourself away from the world.

"Most of the time, I've met with nothing but kindness when I've had a fit in public," says Denise. "Some people just stare but most of the time people want to help. I've met some wonderful people."

She adds, "It's important to talk to family and friends about your condition. Some people are afraid of epilepsy, but you can help educate them if you learn about it yourself. Be as independent as you can. Don't hide from your epilepsy. One in 200 people has it in some form, and it's nothing to be ashamed of."

'Why I need a good night's sleep'

'Why I need a good night's sleep'

Paul Clark, a father of two from Essex, developed epilepsy in his thirties. He was surprised to discover the likely cause.

"Discovering I had epilepsy at the age of 33 was a massive shock to the system and it has changed my life completely. It started when I returned to work after the Christmas break. I began collapsing without warning. I would start to feel really hot and just go down like a sack of potatoes. I would be out for up to a minute and wake up in a cold sweat feeling exhausted and really sick.

"This happened five times in two weeks and, even though I was checked out by ambulance staff, an A&E doctor and my GP, no one could identify what was causing it.

"Then I collapsed in a bar and cut my head quite badly. An ambulance took me to A&E and I had another seizure in front of a doctor. When I came round, she told me I was epileptic. I felt a mixture of relief and shock. It was serious but at least I knew what I was dealing with.

"The following day, I met an epilepsy nurse who explained that I would have to change my lifestyle. I had to surrender my driving licence and stop cycling and swimming. At home I had to avoid baths and stop carrying my new baby daughter, Safia, until the seizures were under control.

"The drugs are now working efficiently and I'm getting used to the fact that I can't do anything without thinking, 'What if I have a seizure?' It's impossible to know for sure what's behind it, but my three-year-old son, Sol, has never slept well and the long-term effects of sleep deprivation could be a factor. The doctors say that's the only reason that they can come up with, and apparently lack of sleep is a surprisingly common trigger. My poor partner, Michelle, has been brilliant. She now deals with the children on her own during the night because I need more rest."