Epilepsy is a neurological condition also known as a seizure disorder. Seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally, which may briefly alter a person’s consciousness, movements or actions.
Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
More than 65 million people in the world have epilepsy and 80% of these people live in developing countries. There are different causes and different types of seizures. Some people even have more than one type of seizure.
- Nearly 80% of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income countries.
- It is estimated that up to 70% of people living with epilepsy could live seizure- free if properly diagnosed and treated.
- The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is up to three times higher than for the general population.
- Three quarters of people with epilepsy living in low-income countries do not get the treatment they need.
- In many parts of the world, people with epilepsy and their families suffer from stigma and discrimination.
For 60 to 70% of cases the cause of epilepsy is unknown. Some known causes are:
- Head trauma (a.k.a. Traumatic Brain Injury)
- Low oxygen during birth
- Brain tumor
- Developmental disorders (a.k.a. Autism or Neurofibromatosis)
- Abnormal levels of substances such as sodium or blood sugar
Who gets epilepsy?
Anyone can develop epilepsy. Epilepsy affects both men and women of all races, ethnic backgrounds and ages.
Seizure symptoms can vary widely. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs. Having a single seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy. At least two unprovoked seizures are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis.
Treatment with medications or sometimes surgery can control seizures for the majority of people with epilepsy. Some people require lifelong treatment to control seizures, but for others, the seizures eventually go away. Some children with epilepsy may outgrow the condition with age.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the U.S. following:
- Alzheimer’s disease
Its prevalence is greater than the following conditions combined:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Cerebral Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
Despite how common it is and major advances in diagnosis and treatment, epilepsy is among the least understood of major chronic medical conditions, even though one in three adults knows someone with the disorder.