Understanding epilepsy

Jeff K. is a real VIMPAT patient.

What is epilepsy?

  • Epilepsy means the same thing as “seizure disorders.”
  • Epilepsy is a condition of the brain causing repeated and unpredictable seizures.
  • A seizure is caused by a disturbance in the normal electrical activity of the brain.
  • Someone may be diagnosed with epilepsy if they experience two or more of these seizures separated by at least 24 hours.
Over 3.4 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with epilepsy

Epilepsy is more common than you may think.

  • There are around 3.4 million people living with epilepsy in the United States—470,000 of them are children.
  • 1 in 26 people in the United States will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their life.
  • About 60% of people diagnosed with epilepsy have partial-onset seizures.
  • Approximately one-half to two-thirds of seizures in children are partial-onset seizures—the most common type of seizure in children.
  • Some people diagnosed with epilepsy may have generalized seizures.
  • Tonic-clonic (grand-mal) seizures occur in 25% of all people who have seizures and are also the most common type of generalized seizure in adults.
Highlighted region of the brain

There are many types of epilepsy and they affect people in different ways. In fact, some people use language such as “episodes” or “fits” to describe what they’re going through. However, the proper term is “seizure.” Seizures are often classified as partial-onset (or focal-onset) seizures, generalized-onset seizures, or unknown onset seizures.

Partial-onset seizures start in only one side of the brain. But don’t let the name fool you—partial-onset seizures can be serious and can affect your ability to respond to what’s happening around you. They deserve the full attention of you and your doctor. Partial-onset seizures can be hard to spot. In fact, some people who experience them may not even realize they’re having seizures.

Generalized-onset seizures involve the entire brain, affecting both sides of the brain from the start of the seizure, causing muscles to stiffen and convulsions to occur for up to a few minutes. It is not uncommon to lose consciousness.

Are you the parent or guardian of a child with epilepsy?
Learn about epilepsy in children here.

Partial-Onset Seizures

Types of Seizures: Simple Partial Seizures

Simple partial seizures (focal-onset aware seizures) can be subtle. While the person cannot control the seizure itself, he or she remains aware that something is going on. For example, simple partial seizures might cause an involuntary movement of the leg, an occasional sense of déjà vu, or the perception of an odor that isn’t really there.

Types of Seizures: Complex Partial Seizures

Complex partial seizures (focal-onset impaired awareness seizures) impair consciousness or can cause some people to lose consciousness entirely. People experiencing one may appear "spaced out" for a moment, or have repetitive behavior such as picking at their clothes or smacking their lips.

Partial phase / generalized phase

Partial-onset seizures can sometimes generalize and spread across the entire brain, often resulting in a convulsive seizure. This type of seizure is called a secondarily generalized partial-onset seizure.

Primary Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizures (PGTCS)

Primary Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizures (PGTCS)

There are many types of generalized-onset seizures, including primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures. VIMPAT is a prescription medicine approved for use with other medicines for the treatment of primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures in people 4 years of age and older.

This type of seizure (also called a convulsion) is what most people think of when they hear the word "seizure." Another term for this type of seizure is "grand mal." As implied by the name, they combine the characteristics of tonic and clonic seizures. Tonic means stiffening, and clonic means rhythmical jerking.

The tonic phase comes first: All the muscles stiffen. Air being forced past the vocal cords causes a cry or groan. The person loses consciousness and falls to the floor, and may bite their tongue or inside of their cheek. If this happens, saliva may look a bit bloody.

After the tonic phase comes the clonic phase: The arms and usually the legs begin to jerk rapidly and rhythmically, bending and relaxing at the elbows, hips, and knees. After a few minutes, the jerking slows and stops. These seizures generally last 1 to 3 minutes. Afterwards, the person may be sleepy, confused, irritable, or depressed.

Committed to building the lives of epilepsy patients and their loved ones

UCB, the maker of VIMPAT, has developed some of the most prescribed epilepsy medications on the market, and has a long history of supporting patients and their families with free resources to help improve the lives of people affected by epilepsy. Learn more