Epilepsy: The Facts
According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 50 million people globally that are living with epilepsy.1 Over 2 million of those diagnosed with epilepsy live in the United States.2 The WHO reports that every year there are about 2.4 million people diagnosed with epilepsy,1 of which 150,000 new cases are in the United States.2 Almost 80% of those living with epilepsy are of low to middle income countries1 and it is more common among younger children and older adults.2
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain caused by an increased amount of electrical charges within brain cells, which causes seizures. There are various types and symptoms of seizures, depending on where the electrical disruption occurs in the brain and how far it travels.1 When the electrical disturbance only affects a limited area of the brain it is considered a “partial seizure”, compared to a “primary generalized seizure” which involves both hemispheres of the brain.3 Seizures can be characterized by change or loss of awareness, consciousness, physical sensations (such as sight, smell, hearing, etc.), and by involuntary muscle activity, among other symptoms.1 In some cases, a person has certain physical signs prior to seizures, such as a change in sensations or feelings, that warn of a coming seizure; other times there is no warning.2 Once a seizure has ended, it can take mere moments up to multiple hours for the person to recover to feeling and functioning normally.2 In 60% of cases, the cause for epilepsy is unknown.2 Some known causes include head injury, genetic tendency, stroke, brain tumor, complications at birth or in infancy, and infections of the brain.1
In addition to the symptoms experienced from epilepsy, there is also an increased occurrence of physical injuries related to having seizures and up to 3 times the risk of premature death.1 For many people with epilepsy, social stigma is one of the hardest barriers to overcome that often results from a societal lack of awareness about the disorder. Globally, difficulty obtaining good insurance, driver’s licenses, certain occupations, and having a family are common limitations from having uncontrolled epilepsy.1
Diagnosing epilepsy involves a variety of tests performed by physicians, neurologists or epileptologists. This testing can include an EEG (electroencephalogram) to study the electrical patterns of the brain, blood tests to evaluate whether there are pre-existing medical conditions, imaging of the brain (possibly a CT scan, MRI scan or x-ray) to look for any physical abnormalities, and other testing as may be needed.4 Epilepsy is generally diagnosed after having two seizures that are not the result of an unrelated and known medical condition, and are over 24 hours apart in occurrence.1 There is currently no cure for epilepsy, but there are treatment options that commonly have success in controlling seizures. The most common form of epilepsy treatment is anti-epileptic drugs, or AEDs. According to the World Health Organization, as high as 70% of people with epilepsy have success in controlling seizures when treated with anti-epileptic drugs.1 Of those living in low to middle income countries, about 75% of them are not able to receive appropriate treatment due to the low availability of medication and to physicians not being trained properly on epilepsy diagnosis and treatment.1
1. “Epilepsy: Fact Sheet.” World Health Organization. WHO, May 2015. Web. 5 Oct 2015.
2. “About Epilepsy: The Basics.” Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy Foundation, Jan 2014. Web 6 Oct 2015.
3. “Types of Seizures.” Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy Foundation, Nov 2013. Web 6 Oct 2015.
4. “Diagnosis.” Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy Foundation, Aug 2013. Web 6 Oct 2015.