Epilepsy is a neurological condition where an abnormal electrical activity happens in the brain causing seizures (also known as fits). What people experience during a seizure depends on where the epileptic activity takes place in the brain.


There are two types of seizure – partial and generalised (often referred to as petit mal and grand mal).

In simple terms, with partial seizures the person will remain conscious and may report:

  • Changes in the way things look, feel, taste, smell or sound
  • Feelings of déjà vu
  • Tingling in arms or legs
  • Feeling of stiffness in the muscles.


In a more complex partial seizure, a person will be unaware of what is happening and will not be able to remember afterwards. They may display behaviour such as:

  • Smacking lips
  • Rubbing hands or moving arms around
  • Making random noises
  • Picking at clothes or fiddling
  • Adopting an unusual posture
  • Swallowing or chewing
  • Short periods of loss of concentration or absences.


In a generalised seizure, a person will suddenly become completely unconscious, experiencing physical seizures for a sustained period of a few minutes, and be subsequently unaware of events following recovery.

A significant number of people with epilepsy experience photosensitive epilepsy, where seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering light (eg. strobe lighting, unprotected computer screens).

Others can experience nocturnal epilepsy, where seizures tend to only occur during sleep.

Potential impact on daily life and employment

  • In the majority of cases, epilepsy can be controlled by medication
  • Diagnosis may have an emotional impact
  • Diagnosis will normally lead to an individual’s driver licence being withdrawn
  • People may be nervous going out in public in case they have a seizure and may experience significant lack of self-confidence
  • Side effects of medication can include tiredness, confusion or in some cases the appearance of being intoxicated
  • Some people may be advised to avoid certain types of work. (eg. working at heights or with machinery)
  • Epilepsy can cause tiredness or exhaustion, particularly if sleep patterns are disrupted.

Support in the workplace

  • Some individuals may go through a spell of thinking they no longer need to take medication. Encourage employees to talk to their doctor before making changes
  • Some individuals may need to take medication at set times, so adjust working patterns to accommodate this need
  • Consider appointing a workplace buddy to help keep an eye on the individual while in work
  • Where practical, avoid working for extended periods of time in isolation
  • If epilepsy is the result of an accident or illness, or is diagnosed while in work, it may trigger other mental or physical issues which should be considered.


Approximately 25,000 people in Australia are diagnosed with epilepsy each year. 

Source; Epilepsy Action Australia.


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