Seizures vs. Epilepsy: What’s the Difference?


It’s common for people to confuse seizures and epilepsy or to assume that they’re interchangeable. In fact, the distinction between the two conditions is a bit more complex than that.

Epilepsy is characterized by recurring seizures. However, not all seizures are epileptic in nature. Some people may experience a seizure and not be diagnosed with epilepsy. Let’s explore key differences between seizures vs. epilepsy.

What Causes a Seizure?

Imagine that the brain consists of an intricate system of highways, with traffic constantly flowing on the vast network of roads. These highways are the brain’s neural pathways, and the vehicles that travel them are neurons.

In a healthy brain, the neurons are continuously processing and transmitting information to one another, helping the brain and body to function normally. But when multiple neurons send the wrong signal, or misfire, this sudden electrical discharge causes changes in sensation and behavior. This is a seizure, and may be characterized by muscle spasms, twitching or loss of consciousness, depending upon the severity of the event.

Epilepsy is defined by having multiple, unpredictable seizures. However, you can have a seizure without having epilepsy.

Seizures vs. Epilepsy

Having a seizure does not always indicate that you suffer from epilepsy. Anything that disrupts brain function, such as a high fever, lack of oxygen or trauma to the head can cause a seizure, and this may be an isolated event.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder, in which a person experiences recurrent, unpredictable seizures. With the right treatment, including anti-epileptic drugs, this lifelong condition can be well-managed, helping people to live several years without a seizure episode. In more severe cases of epilepsy, particularly where there are structural brain abnormalities, surgery may be necessary.