About Epilepsy

Epilepsy is the most common serious neurological condition in Australia.

  • It affects approx 3% of the population. In WA, at least 24,500 people have active Epilepsy with at least a further 1,400 new patients presenting with a seizure each year.
  • It can affect anyone at any age, but many people experience their first seizure before the age of twenty.
  • One in 20 children will have a seizure at some time during their childhood/adolescence
  • One in 4 people with a disability, will also have Epilepsy
  • Epilepsy is increasingly common after the age of 50 years.
  • The risk of an individual developing epilepsy in his or her lifetime is between 3 and 5%.

Causes of Epilepsy

These include: 
  • Genetics
  • Low oxygen during birth.
  • Head injuries that occur during birth or from accidents during youth or adulthood.
  • Infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.
  • Strokes 
  • Brain tumours.


Many people diagnosed with epilepsy can be effectively treated with seizure medication and lead relatively normal lives. Seizures can also be controlled to some extent, by adopting a careful and sensible approach to lifestyle.

Some people can even become seizure free within a few years under this regime. However, even with treatment, some people still have occasional breakthrough seizures, while others will continue to suffer uncontrolled seizures for the rest of their lives. Sometimes several hundred a day, which puts an enormous strain on the body and can make everyday life very difficult for them and the people close to them. 

Trigger Factors

There are several common seizure triggers that people with epilepsy are encouraged to avoid. These are: 
  • Alcohol -- Stress
  • Coffee/caffeine
  • Photosensitivity 
  • Tiredness 


Ongoing uncontrolled seizures have a major impact on the lives of people with epilepsy. Some people have hundreds of seizures a day and are unable to even leave their homes unaccompanied. It can make them feel vulnerable, isolated, frustrated and very dependent on others. 

Seizures can affect: 

  • quality of life
  • health - as prescribed medication can have an additional impact on their health. Medication can cause drowsiness and lethargy due to its affect on the electrical activity in the brain. Sleep patterns and appetite can be affected and people also might suffer injuries during seizures.
  • sense of wellbeing, as isolation and stigmatisation often leads to depression,
  • mortality – seizure related injuries can be fatal. There is an ongoing threat of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy [SUDEP] which is believed to be the cause of approximately 10% of seizure related deaths. Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable nature of SUDEP it remains a relatively understudied phenomena; 
  • financial position. 
However, it is important to remember that the majority of people with epilepsy remain seizure free under effective treatment.  This means they can usually lead a normal life.

  • You can drive a car as long as your medication keeps you seizure free.*
  • You can participate in sports.
  • You can have children.
  • You can pursue the career of your dreams.

The MYTHS of Epilepsy 

Epilepsy means you can't be an athlete.

Cyclist Marion Clignet was shunned by the U.S. Cycling Federation after she was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 22. She went on to race for France and earned gold and silver metals in races from 1991 through 2000.

Luke Quinlivan is an Australian water polo champion who has been on medication for epilepsy since 2001. He did have a near miss when he forgot to take his medication and had a seizure in the pool in November 2010. He's still training for the London Olympics in 2012 and has not had any recurrences.

Epilepsy means you are mentally deficient.

This has been one of the most persistent of myths. Some epileptics prefer to say they have "seizures" because they fear that others will think they are mentally challenged or brain damaged.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Agatha Christie of mystery writing fame had epilepsy. No one would consider her "retarded." The scientist who discovered the power of gravity, Sir Isaac Newton, also suffered from epileptic seizures.

Epilepsy leads to high absenteeism and on-the-job accidents.

There is absolutely no statistical proof of this as long as your medication is controlling your seizures. Epileptics tend to have the same healthcare costs as the general population. Some employees who are well-controlled may prefer not to reveal their condition, especially when approaching a potential employer.

Unfortunately, this approach allows the myth to continue unchallenged! We encourage epileptics to consider educating and increasing awareness about epilepsy, rather than continuing to allow this misconception to prevent other epileptics from finding their dream jobs.

If this myth were true, actor Danny Glover wouldn't still be a major player in the U.S. movie industry. Hollywood isn't as tolerant of actors when they are no longer the biggest profit producers, yet you continue to see this man playing supportive roles.

Of course the situation is different if ongoing seizures are a problem. This does have a major impact on the burden of illness to you, your employer and the community, including your quality of life and your ability to perform your job. Mortality and the economic costs of Epilepsy increase dramatically in proportion to seizure frequency.

Epilepsy is contagious.

This myth was disproven in the early 1800s, yet people still ask the question. While epilepsy may be passed on genetically, this is the only way it can be "spread."

Epileptic seizures are different every time.

Your epileptic seizures will usually be the same every time. Once you know how your seizures affect you, you can share this information with friends and co-workers so they know what to do if you have a seizure. You can assure those around you that you can't swallow your tongue.

*Subject to relevant fitness to drive, medical and Department of Licensing approval processes in your state or territory. 

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