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epilepsy terminology

Saying it right

There are a number of common misconceptions surrounding epilepsy and epilepsy terminology. In addition, some terms used in association with the condition are becoming less appropriate, due to their negative connotations or inaccuracy.

While seizures may be referred to as 'epileptic', this is not an appropriate term for a person with the condition. The correct term is 'person with epilepsy'.

Seizure, fit, attack?

The word for an epileptic event is 'seizure'. This most accurately describes the wide-ranging experiences of people with epilepsy. The words 'attack', 'fit' and 'turn' are still used, but decreasingly. The word 'fit', for example, implies a convulsive seizure but not all seizures will be convulsive.

In the interests of accuracy, the terms 'grand mal' and 'petit mal' should not be used to describe seizure types, as epilepsy is a very complex condition with many different seizure types. These terms have been replaced by a range of classifications which more accurately describe how different seizures manifest themselves.

More information on seizure types

There has been criticism that the word 'brainstorming' is offensive to people with epilepsy. Epilepsy Society recently conducted a small survey among people with the condition and the overwhelming response was that the term is not offensive when used in its correct context, defining a session amassing spontaneous ideas as potential solutions to a problem.

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Epilepsy terminology on Facebook

We posted a series of posts on Facebook looking at the different terminology used for terms associated with epilepsy. This blog shows a collection of the Facebook posts and infographics used and a look at supporter's comments.

 

Epilepsy and associated disabilities

Epilepsy is not a disease or an illness and it is not catching. It is the most common serious neurological condition. There is no causal link between epilepsy and learning disabilities, however both are outward symptoms of underlying brain dysfunction or damage and sometimes their cause is the same. 30% of people with learning disabilities have epilepsy; 15% of people with epilepsy have learning disabilities.

Ancient misconceptions about epilepsy are still in evidence today. There is much stigma attached to having the condition. A study by Epilepsy Society showed that around 2% of people in the UK still believe epilepsy is caused by possession of evil spirits. The study also showed that over 75% of people would call an ambulance if they witnessed a seizure rather than apply some simple first aid.