What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is the name given to a condition where a person has recurrent, unprovoked seizures.

Every action in the human body is controlled by coordinated electrical impulses within a network of nerve cells. When nerve impulses in the brain misfire, incorrect information is transmitted resulting in interference in consciousness, thoughts and actions.

There are more than 40 types of epilepsy, which are divided into two groups according to the site of seizure onset. Partial, or focal, seizures begin in a specific region of the brain and predominantly impact parts of the body controlled by the affected area. Generalised seizures begin diffusely in the brain. There is a wide range of seizure symptoms depending on whether they are generalised or focal and where in the brain the seizure starts.

The reason why epilepsy develops is not fully understood. Someone with epilepsy may also have trigger factors that lead to seizures – these include sleep deprivation and excessive alcohol. People with epilepsy are encouraged to keep a seizure diary, to determine whether specific triggers can be identified.

Epilepsy facts

  • One in 10 people living in Australia will experience a seizure in their lifetime, with 3-4 per cent being diagnosed with epilepsy
  • Traumatic brain injury, meningitis, lack of oxygen during birth and stroke can all lead to epilepsy, but the cause is unknown in half all cases
  • 70 per cent of epilepsy cases are controlled with medication
  • Epilepsy can be diagnosed at any age, but is most prevalent over the age of 55.

Source: Epilepsy Australia

Epilepsy research at QBI

Although neuroscientists first recognised epilepsy as a medical condition more than a century ago, they are yet to determine why seizures occur. Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) are committed to finding both the molecular mechanisms and the causes of the condition.

In the mid-1990s Dr Robyn Wallace (a former QBI researcher) made the first discovery of a gene linked to generalised epilepsy. Since then she and her team successfully identified several other epilepsy genes. Further, the researchers mapped two families with myoclonic epilepsy to specific chromosomal regions and they are now screening candidate genes from these regions to identify the underlying disease-causing mutations.


If you would like more information about epilepsy, or require support, please contact Epilepsy Australia on 1300 852 853.