Mate hukihuki Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that affects around 1% of people. It can affect people of all ages. People with epilepsy have seizures that are caused by brief abnormal electrical activity in their brains.

Types of seizures

There are different types of seizures, and epilepsy can be mild, severe, or anywhere in between. Most last for a few minutes. When a seizure happens, the person may:

  • call out
  • fall
  • start shaking or jerking
  • have shallow breathing
  • lose control of their bladder or bowels
  • not be aware of what is happening around them.

Helping someone who is having a seizure

If someone is having a seizure:

  • stay with them
  • be calm
  • protect them from danger — remove any nearby harmful objects
  • protect them from injury — cushion their head with something flat and soft such as a folded jacket
  • take off their glasses if they wear any
  • loosen their tie or anything tight around their neck.

Make sure you do not:

  • put anything in their mouth
  • hold them down, restrain them or try to move them.

After the seizure

  • When the seizure has stopped, lay them gently on their side in the recovery position.
  • Comfort and reassure them.
  • Stay with them until they are fully awake and have recovered.
  • Check if they are wearing a medical alert bracelet or pendant.

If this is their first seizure, they should arrange to see their healthcare provider to look into why it happened.

Video: First aid for seizures — Epilepsy Foundation (external link)

When to get immediate medical care

Phone 111 for an ambulance if:

  • there is food, fluid or vomit in their mouth
  • they are having difficulty breathing once they have stopped jerking
  • the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • another seizure follows quickly
  • the person is not responsive 5 minutes after the seizure has stopped
  • they have injured themselves during the seizure.

If in doubt, seek medical help.

What causes epilepsy

Epilepsy is often caused by genetic changes in brain cells. These may be passed on from parents (inherited).

Other causes are:

  • head injury
  • stroke
  • brain tumours
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • infection
  • birth injury
  • genetic disorders.

There are many forms of epilepsy, each of which can cause different types of seizures.

Diagnosing epilepsy

It can be difficult to diagnose epilepsy. Healthcare providers will use a detailed history of your symptoms, including hearing from people who have seen the possible seizure.

Possible tests include:

  • an EEG (measuring your brain's electrical activity)
  • CT or MRI scans of your brain.

Treating epilepsy

Epilepsy can usually be controlled with medication. There are several different types of medication used. It can take time to find the one medication, or a combination of medications, that works for you. It can depend on the type of epilepsy you have, and if you have unwanted side effects.

If medication does not work for you, some types of epilepsy may be treated with surgery, or special medically supervised diets.

Self care for epilepsy

Most people with epilepsy live a normal active life.

It is important with epilepsy to:

  • eat well
  • be physically active
  • get enough sleep
  • limit alcohol.

Some people can identify triggers for their epilepsy and learn how to avoid them.

Seizure triggers — Epilepsy New Zealand (external link)

There are steps you can take to improve your safety in case of a seizure.

Safety and risk management — Epilepsy New Zealand (external link)

Epilepsy New Zealand has more information on living well with epilepsy.

Living with epilepsy — Epilepsy New Zealand (external link)

Epilepsy New Zealand

This website has a wide range of information about epilepsy.


Information about the risks of taking anti-epileptic medicines while you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant.


Information about epilepsy in tamariki, including what epilepsy is, what can trigger seizures and what you should do if your child has a seizure.

New Zealand Transport Agency

Information about whether you're legally allowed to drive if you have epilepsy.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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