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Epilepsy is when someone’s brain doesn’t work properly for some of the time. The brain sends electric messages all over the body telling it what to do. If someone has epilepsy the messages sometimes get mixed up or blocked, so the muscles don’t know what to do. This is called a seizure.

What is it like for siblings if their brother or sister has epilepsy?

Lots of siblings have really good relationships with their brothers and sisters who have epilepsy. They enjoy playing with them and spending time with them. However, siblings also say that they can find it frightening when their brothers and sisters have seizures, or fits. They may also have to get help when fits happen, by alerting an adult or calling an ambulance. Siblings feel worried about their brothers and sisters as they don’t always know when fits are going to happen. This can make family life difficult.

What causes epilepsy?

Some people are born with epilepsy. Some people get epilepsy when their brain has been injured. This may have been because of a serious illness or a bad accident. For more than half the people who have epilepsy the doctors do not know what caused it. It can start at any age. Epilepsy can’t be caught from someone else, like a cold can.

What does it mean?

There are lots of different types of seizures. The one people recognize most is called a tonic-clonic seizure. Some people call them grand mal. This is where the person falls to the floor and has jerking movements. There are many other types where the person doesn’t fall to the floor. One of these is called an absence. The person having an absence will look as if they are staring into space, or daydreaming.

Most seizures start without warning, but some people have a funny feeling, feel sick or have butterflies in their tummy. Or they may have a weird smell or taste just before their seizure starts.

Some people find that certain things may bring on a seizure, like not getting enough sleep or not taking their epilepsy medicine. A few people find that playing video games or looking at flashing lights can bring on their seizures. After the seizure they may be tired and they may not remember anything about it. When someone has a tonic-clonic seizure they should be rolled onto their side, after the seizure has ended, have a cushion put under their head and have someone stay with them until they are better. Sometimes they may need an ambulance if the seizure lasts for longer than five minutes.

What treatment is there?

Most people who have epilepsy have to take medicine every day. This helps to stop them having seizures. Sometimes it can stop the seizures altogether. Some people will get better as they get older and can stop taking the medicine but they must never do this without talking to their doctor.

In a few people, when the epilepsy medicines don’t work, they may need to have an operation.