About Epilepsy

Understanding the common neurological condition characterized by recurring seizures

Epilepsy is a neurological (brain) condition that causes people to have recurring seizures and is typically diagnosed after two or more unprovoked seizures. Epilepsy is sometimes referred to as a seizure disorder.

  • Epilepsy is not contagious.
  • Epilepsy is a medical condition, like diabetes or asthma.
  • Epilepsy is not a mental illness or impairment.
  • Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological condition, after migraines, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the United States, 3.4 million people live with epilepsy, including nearly half a million children. It’s most often diagnosed in childhood or after the age of 65 but can occur at any age. It affects people of all races, genders, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and social classes. One in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime.

Epilepsy by the Numbers:

1 in 26

people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime.

More than 55,000

people in Minnesota are living with epilepsy.

3.4 million

Americans are living with epilepsy.

4th most common

neurological condition, after migraines, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Causes of Epilepsy

Epilepsy can be caused by a variety of conditions that affect the brain; however, for about 70% of people with epilepsy, the cause is unknown. Some of the known causes include:

  • Stroke.
  • Brain tumor.
  • Head trauma and/or brain injury.
  • Brain infections.
  • Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Brain malformations.
  • Lack of oxygen during birth.
  • Genetic factors.
Illustration of a skeleton with a brain.
Thriving with Epilepsy

Meet Sylvia Nelson

Sylvia Nelson frequently shares her story and invites others to do the same. After experiencing a storm of seizures in 2007, she began connecting with her legislators through EFMN’s annual Day at the Capitol. This gave her the opportunity to tell her story and educate lawmakers about living life with epilepsy.

Read Sylvia's Story
Older woman in a cardinal sweater with a big smile sits in front of a piano.

Levels of Care in Epilepsy

One of the first steps after being diagnosed with epilepsy is to assess the level of care needed. The type of doctor you see first may depend on the severity of your symptoms and your individual circumstances. There are several options for care in epilepsy:

Primary Care Provider

Your primary care provider (PCP) may be the first level of care if you suspect something is wrong. Your PCP can check to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by other conditions that mimic seizures. Some people whose seizures are easily controlled with medication may continue to have their epilepsy managed by their PCP.


A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in treating diseases and disorders of the brain and central nervous system, including epilepsy. Most individuals with epilepsy receive their care at this level.


An epileptologist is a neurologist with an additional 1-2 years of specialized training or certification in treating epilepsy. If your seizures are proving difficult to control with medication, you may want to seek  out an epileptologist.

Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

A comprehensive epilepsy center is a specialty clinic for the treatment of epilepsy and related conditions. It provides a comprehensive approach to treatment, and will often have epileptologists, psychologists, neuropsychologists, neurosurgeons, social workers, and other staff who work as a team. Centers offer advanced testing and treatment options that may not be available at a general neurology clinic. A comprehensive epilepsy center is recommended for those who are continuing to have seizures after more than a year of treatment, have tried and failed two or more medications, are experiencing unacceptable side effects, or have co-existing conditions like autism, mental health concerns, or pregnancy.

Get connected with the epilepsy community

No one should face epilepsy alone. Learn about our programs and services to help connect you to the epilepsy community.

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