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4 Common Questions About Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person experiences seizures that can look like staring spells, falling, shaking or losing awareness of what is going on.

Just having a seizure does not mean you have epilepsy. Seizures can happen due to medical issues such as high fever, low blood sugar, or alcohol or drug withdrawal.

That is one of the reasons it is so important to seek care from a trusted specialist. Hoag’s Epilepsy Program is accredited by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC) as a Level 4 Epilepsy Center. This designation recognizes that the Epilepsy Program has the professional expertise, resources and facilities to provide the entire continuum of comprehensive care for patients with seizures and epilepsy.

“Working with a specialist can ensure that you get the care you need,” said David E. Millett, M.D., Ph.D., epilepsy program director of the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag.

Dr. Millett said the most common questions about epilepsy include:

What causes epilepsy? There are many different causes of epilepsy, including genetic conditions, developmental brain abnormalities, and brain scars from prior infection, trauma or prolonged febrile seizures. In addition to these common causes of epilepsy in children and young adults, many neurological disorders seen in older adults including stroke, brain tumor and dementia are also associated with epilepsy. Standard out-patient testing that includes a high-quality MRI and EEG can often confirm the source of seizures.

How is epilepsy treated? Depending on the cause and severity of your condition, treatment might include anti-seizure medications (ASMs), dietary therapy, or even epilepsy surgery. Surgical treatments have evolved considerably over time, and now include minimally invasive techniques such as stereo-EEG and laser interstitial thermal therapy, as well as the latest neuromodulation devices to monitor for and stop seizures.


Can a person die from epilepsy? While most people with epilepsy live a full life, patients who continue to suffer from uncontrolled or drug-resistant seizures risk cognitive decline, injury and early death. If seizures are uncontrolled, patients can succumb to motor vehicle accidents, drowning, or prolonged seizures that require hospitalization and intensive care treatment. Although Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Patients or SUDEP is rare in patients will well-controlled seizures, those who continue to suffer drug-resistant seizures – especially tonic-clonic or convulsive seizures – have a 1:100 annual risk of dying unexpectedly. Patient can reduce the risk of death if they achieve improved seizure control with additional medication trials, neuromodulation or surgical interventions.

If I have epilepsy, can I still drive a car?

Health care providers who practice in California, a mandatory reporting state, are required to report anyone with a seizure or lapse in awareness or bodily control to the state. Once seizures are controlled for 3-6 months, patients can work with their neurologist to provide appropriate documentation to submit to the DMV in order to reinstate driving privileges.


To learn more about Hoag’s Epilepsy Program, visit