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What is Epilepsy? with Ron Rifkin

Epilepsy is a medical condition, not a mental disorder. One in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime.

There are many types of epilepsy and all of them involve seizures — misfiring electrical “storms” in the brain. The storm may affect the whole brain or part of the brain. When it affects the whole brain, it can cause the person to lose consciousness for a short time and make their body convulse or stare blankly into space. When the electrical storm affects only part of the brain, the person may get very confused and start acting in an unusual manner.

Seizures are unpredictable, which means people with active epilepsy are never sure when the next seizure might occur. And, every case of epilepsy is different. Some people with epilepsy can have their seizures controlled by medications, but even then, the medications may cause unwanted side effects. Other treatment options include dietary therapy, surgery, and implanted devices. Proper diagnosis and management of epilepsy and seizures are incredibly important to ensure the person gets the best treatment and quality of life. Seeking an epilepsy specialist or hospital center with a special focus on epilepsy is highly recommended.


Ron Rifkin enters from left. Behind him, there is a long “Hollywood Promises To Talk About It” poster banner advertisement.

Ron Rifkin: So, someone has epilepsy. So what? Epilepsy is a medical condition, like asthma. You can’t catch it. It’s not contagious. And it is much easier to live with, if people understand it, and talk about it.

The station darkens, moving focus to a TV monitor featuring an expert panel interview where Greg Grunberg interviews Joe Sirven, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic and Editor-in-Chief of

Greg Grunberg: What is epilepsy? Just…define it for us.

Dr. Joe Sirven: Sure. Epilepsy — the easiest way to think about it is abnormal electrical activity that shouldn’t be occurring. So if you think of the brain as a battery — a completely cool, complicated battery — this is this extra electrical surge and that shouldn’t be happening. And having these repeated number of storms or surges, that’s the condition, and that causes seizures — that seizure is that electrical surge.

Greg: That’s it. So you’re not possessed by the devil?

Joe: No.

Greg: You can’t give this to someone else?

Joe: Not at all.

Greg: You’re not contagious if you have this. This is not something that can be passed on from one person to the other. We need to get rid of the stigma, guys, we NEED to know what to do if you see someone having a seizure, and we start that just by understanding what epilepsy is.

Joe: And the fact is, anyone who has a brain can have a seizure. Just, some people are more prone to it than others.

Greg: How common is epilepsy?

Joe: Epilepsy is very common, and that is why we should be talking a lot about it. One in every 26 people in the US will develop epilepsy. 

Greg: That’s a lot.

Joe: 3 million people in the US. 65 million people in the world. It’s huge. It’s bigger than the population of Spain. It is a massive number of cases. It’s the 4th most common neurological disorder that exists. So this is super, super common.

Greg: That’s huge. I mean, that’s a reason to know that we’re not alone, but not a good reason.

Joe: Exactly.

Ron Rifkin: You know what? If you don’t have epilepsy, you probably know someone who does. Maybe even someone you care about. So, let’s promise to talk about it, so no one will ever feel the need to hide again. I’m Ron — (chuckles, looks off camera) who am I? …Rifkin, Rifkin! I’m Ron Rifkin. Talk About It!

Ron exits stage left, to the ambience of a train approaching in the near distance.