What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that can affect people of all ages, in which there is a tendency for repeated seizures. Around one in 26 people will be affected by epilepsy during their lifetime. A seizure is a sudden disturbance of the electrical activity in the brain, and this can lead to unpredictable effects on the body, such as confused thoughts and feelings or uncontrolled movements. Seizures can affect your whole body and can range from being very severe and dramatic to very subtle and hardly noticed by others. The type of seizure depends on where the disturbance starts in your brain, and there are more than 40 different types of seizures.

Epilepsy can impact people in different ways. For some people, living with epilepsy does not have a big impact on their life. For others, epilepsy can impact many aspects for a person including their education, employment, lifestyle, health, social, and family life.

What causes epilepsy?

The causes of epilepsy can vary depending on the age when the seizures began. Around one-third of people with epilepsy have a clear cause, like a stroke, infection or an acquired brain injury. In the other two-thirds of people, the cause is not known.

Current anti-seizure treatments for epilepsy help around 70% of people with epilepsy, but the remaining 30% are drug-resistant and often undertake a long journey of “trial and error” to find the anti-seizure medication that can work for them. For some people alternative treatments such as brain surgery or neuromodulation (vagal nerve stimulation, deep brain stimulation, responsive neurostimulation) may reduce or stop seizures.

What epilepsy research is being done at UQCCR?

Our research is focused on better answering the two most common questions patients ask their neurologist in the Epilepsy Clinic “What is the cause of my epilepsy” and “How can my epilepsy be treated?” A better understanding of the cause for an individual patient, will help us to better tailor treatment for the individual patient.

Our group is looking at the role of genomics in the cause of epilepsy. Once a cause has been identified, the hope is that this information will better guide treatment; link to support groups, with other people with epilepsy from the same cause; and assist with counselling for other family members and family planning.

We are currently looking at how we can better select anti-seizure medications, to try to avoid the long journey of trial and error undertaken by some person with epilepsy in order to find the most effective anti-seizure medication. We are looking at using a laboratory-based drug screening platform, which is specific for an individual person with epilepsy.

We also have a special interest in women with epilepsy throughout their lifespan. Women with epilepsy present with unique challenges due to the fluctuations of hormonal levels affecting seizure control spanning their lifespan from reproductive years and pregnancy to peri-menopause and menopause.

Research groups

Epilepsy research (Vadlamudi Group)

Support epilepsy research

Fast facts

  • In Australia, about 10% of the population will have a seizure during their lifetime. At present about 250,000 Australians, or 1% of our population, live with epilepsy.

  • Epilepsy occurs in all ages, gender, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Epilepsy can start at any time in life, but it is more common in children, adolescents, and people over 60 year of age.

  • Women with epilepsy have unique challenges due to the fluctuations of hormonal levels, which can affect seizure control.

Image credit: Dr Kirat Chand