Our Mission

Welcome to The Epilepsy Foundation

The Epilepsy Foundation's mission is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives. Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder (neurological disorder) in which the nerve cell activity in your brain is disturbed, causing a seizure during which you experience abnormal behavior, symptoms and sensations, including loss of consciousness.

Although there has yet to be a cure for epilepsy, we can strive to ensure that “not another moment is lost to seizures.” People living with epilepsy can manage their seizures and improve how they are perceived, accepted and valued in society.


What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. It’s also called a seizure disorder. When a person has two or more seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy.

A seizure happens when a brief, strong surge of electrical activity affects part or all of the brain. One in 10 adults will have a seizure sometime during their life. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. They can have many symptoms, from convulsions and loss of consciousness to some that are not always recognized as seizures by the person experiencing them or by health care professionals: blank staring, lip smacking, or jerking movements of arms and legs.

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Diagnosing epilepsy is a multi-step process, usually involving the following evaluations:

  • Confirmation through patient history, neurological exam, and supporting blood and other clinical tests that the patient has epileptic seizures and not some other type of episode such as fainting, breath-holding (in children), transient ischemic attacks, hypoglycemia, or non-epileptic seizures.
  • Identification of the type of seizure involved.
  • Determination of whether the seizure disorder falls within a recognized syndrome.
  • A clinical evaluation in search of the cause of the epilepsy.
  • Based on all previous findings, selection of the most appropriate therapy.

Types of Seizures

There are many different types of seizures. People may experience just one type or more than one. The kind of seizure a person has depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected by the electrical disturbance that produces seizures. Experts divide seizures into generalized seizures (absence, atonic, tonic-clonic, myoclonic), partial (simple and complex) seizures, nonepileptic seizures and status epileptics.

Epilepsy Symptoms

Classifying epilepsy by seizure type alone leaves out other important information about the patient and the episodes themselves. Classifying into syndromes takes a number of characteristics into account, including the type of seizure; typical EEG recordings; clinical features such as behavior during the seizure; the expected course of the disorder; precipitating features; expected response to treatment, and genetic factors. Find out more about epilepsy syndromes.

Causes of Epilepsy

Seizures are symptoms of abnormal brain function. With the exception of very young children and the elderly, the cause of the abnormal brain function is usually not identifiable. In about seven out of ten people with epilepsy, no cause can be found. Among the rest, the cause may be any one of a number of things that can make a difference in the way the brain works. Head injuries or lack of oxygen during birth may damage the delicate electrical system in the brain. Other causes include brain tumors, genetic conditions (such as tuberous sclerosis), lead poisoning, problems in development of the brain before birth, and infections like meningitis or encephalitis. Find out more about causes of epilepsy.

Seizure Triggers

Some people who have epilepsy have no special seizure triggers, while others are able to recognize things in their lives that do affect their seizures. Keep in mind, however, that just because two events happen around the same time doesn’t mean that one is the cause of the other. Generally, the most frequent cause of an unexpected seizure is failure to take the medication as prescribed. That’s the most common trigger of all. Other factors include ingesting substances, hormone fluctuations, stress, sleep patterns and photosensitivity.



Most epilepsy medicines are taken by mouth. The doctor’s choice of which drug to prescribe depends on what kind of seizure a person is having. Some people experience side effects, others may not. Some people’s seizures will respond well to a particular drug while someone else will have seizures that continue. It may take some time to find exactly the right dose of the right drug.


Surgical removal of seizure-producing areas of the brain has been an accepted form of treatment for over 50 years when medicines fail to prevent seizures. However, because of new surgical techniques and new ways of identifying areas to be removed, more of these operations are being done now than ever before, and with greater success.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation is a type of treatment in which short bursts of electrical energy are directed into the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck. The energy comes from a battery, about the size of a silver dollar, which is surgically implanted under the skin, usually on the chest. Just how it works to prevent seizures is being studied.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet, which is very high in fats and low in carbohydrates, makes the body burn fat for energy instead of glucose. When carefully monitored by a medical team familiar with its use, the diet helps two out of three children who are tried on it and may prevent seizures completely in one out of three.

Complementary Treatment

In our culture, treatment of medical conditions is based on carefully recorded results in fairly large groups of people. If a treatment is effective for many people under controlled circumstances, it can be expected to work for others. Non-traditional practices are usually not subjected to this kind of evaluation, so there is no scientific proof that they are likely to work. Nevertheless, some people say they feel better, or have fewer seizures, when they use these remedies.

Pam Hughes

Executive Director

Pam has been with the Epilepsy Foundation since 2001. She was a supervisor at the Education Development Assessment Center for Goodwill before coming to the Foundation. She lives in Dandridge with her husband of 25 years and their 15 year old son. Pam received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman. Like all of the staff at the Foundation, Pam helps with all of the programs. A great deal of her time goes towards seeking grants and funding for our programs, but also enjoys helping coordinate the support group and social outings for the clients. When not at work, Pam enjoys spending time with her grandchildren.

Paula Ellis

Public Education Coordinator

Paula has been with the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee since 2004. She grew up in the Knoxville area and currently lives in Rockford with her husband of 20 years and their two dogs. Before coming to the Epilepsy Foundation, Ms. Ellis worked for Kroger for 20 years and then went on to work for the TVA Credit Union. Her daughter, now 28, had seizures as a young child, which gives her great insight and passion for the mission of the Foundation. In her position as Public Education Coordinator, she is responsible for recruiting, coordinating and scheduling first aid training presentations throughout 24 counties in East Tennessee. She travels to schools, day cares and businesses throughout the East Tennessee community to educate attendees in appropriate seizure first aid and other social issues surrounding the disorder of epilepsy. In addition, Paula keeps up with new research information from the National Office and other resources to ensure all presentation information is up to date. In her free time, Paula and her husband teach a singles class at their church.

Sarah Ammons

Client Services Coordinator

Sarah has been with the Epilepsy Foundation since 2003. She lives in Powell with her husband, son and daughter. Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Tennessee and a Master’s Degree from Johnson University. As the Client Services Coordinator, Sarah sends materials and application for pharmaceutical programs in order to get long term assistance with their epilepsy medication; coordinates with doctor and dental offices to assist patients who need these services; coordinates camp scholarships for epilepsy camp; helps coordinate support group and assists with fundraising. In her free time, Sarah loves to spend time with her family and friends. She also teaches first grade Sunday School at her church.