Epilepsy is a condition in which there is a tendency to have seizures.

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  • An epileptic seizure happens when there is a sudden electrical discharge in the brain.This causes changes in sensation, behaviour or consciousness. 
  • Most seizures last from a few seconds to a few minutes and usually stop without the need for any treatment. 

The two main groups of seizures

  1. Generalised seizures – the whole brain is affected by the abnormal electrical activity disturbance and the person becomes unconscious. This can be very brief or may last a few minutes. Some generalised seizures may involve sudden changes in muscle tone (stiffening or complete loss of tone) that will mean the person falls to the floor. This may then be followed by jerking movements. In other generalised seizures, such as absence seizure, the person will stop all activity and remain still in a day dream like state (but unconscious).

  2. Focal seizures – the abnormal electrical activity is focussed in just one part of the brain. The type of seizure will depend on exactly where in the brain the focus of activity is. There are usually changes in the level of awareness but the person will not be unconscious. 

What causes epilepsy?

The causes of epilepsy fall into three groups:

  1. Structural/metabolic
  2. Genetic 
  3. Unknown 

In around 60% of cases, the cause is unknown. But with advances in brain imaging techniques and our understanding of genetics causes may be found in more cases. 

What triggers a seizure?

It is not known why a seizure occurs at one time and not another, but there are certain factors that may increase the likelihood of a seizure and these are known as triggers.

Common seizure triggers include:

  • Tiredness
  • Illness (raised temperature)
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Menstruation
  • Alcohol
  • Changes in medication
  • Flashing lights (although photosensitive epilepsy is quite rare, affecting only around 5% of those with epilepsy)

Treatment for epilepsy

Treatment for children with epilepsy is medication using antiepileptic drugs or AEDs. Most medication is taken twice daily. AEDs are not a cure for epilepsy, but they can reduce the amount of seizures a person is having.

Supporting students with epilepsy

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  • Meet with the family to agree an Individual Healthcare Plan.
  • As everyone’s experience of epilepsy and having seizures is different, it is important that the young person explains what it is like for them and how best the school staff can support.

Managing seizures

  • Following a seizure some people may need time to recover, this might include needing to sleep.
  • For 5% of learners with photosensitive epilepsy seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights or by geometric patterns such as checks or stripes.
  • Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) may create problems with memory and concentration.

Sports and activities

  • Liaise with parents/carers and the medical team to arrange the best options for PE and other physical activities.
  • The most common precaution is supervision and a trained person on hand should a student have a seizure.
  • This also applies to swimming.
  • School outing risk assessments need to include emergency medication and identification of the nearest Hospital A&E Department.

Support for learning

  • Seizures can affect memory. Build in activities that assess for understanding before moving onto a new topic.
  • Provide recap and consolidation as part of the learning programme.
  • Provide learning notes if a student has missed a lesson or is unable to recall prior learning following a seizure.


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