Frequently Asked Questions about Epilepsy

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What is epilepsy?
How many Americans have Epilepsy?
What causes epilepsy?
How common is epilepsy?
How many people get epilepsy every year?
Can it be cured?
What sort of problems do epileptics face in daily life?
How can epilepsy be treated?
Do women have any special concerns or needs?
What about the children of epileptic mothers?
What can be done to help avoid risk during pregnancy?
What are the social concerns of people with epilepsy?
What can be done to help?


 

What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition characterized by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain manifested as two or more seizures. There are more than 29 different seizure disorders.


How many Americans have epilepsy?
About 2,500,000 people in the U. S. have some form of epilepsy.


What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy has no single cause; in about 70% of all cases, there is no known cause. The most frequent causes are head injuries, birth injury, infection affecting the develping fetus during pregnancy, brain tumors, and stroke.


How common is epilepsy?
Approximately 1% of the U. S. population has some form of epilepsy. In Texas, using the 1997 population estimates, this is about 193,000 Texans with epilepsy.


How many people get epilepsy every year?
About 125,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U. S. This is equivalent to about 8,570 new cases (1997) in Texas. Epilepsy can effect anyone at any time. Epilepsy primarily affects children and young adults. Fifty percent develop epilepsy before age 25. It is also increasing in the elderly population.


Can it be cured?
Full or partial control may be achieved in about 85% of cases. Prompt detection and early medical intervention can greatly improve seizure control and the patient's quality of life. Epilepsy still remains under diagnosed and under treated.


What sort of problems do epileptics face in daily life?
Persons with epilepsy continue to be unemployed and underemployed. Twenty to thirty percent of people with epilepsy who are physically able to work are unemployed. Driver limitations may limit accessibility to employers not on bus routes, especially in rural areas.


How can epilepsy be treated?

Physicians prefer the use of AEDS for the initial treatment. Surgery is becoming more common. The ketogenic (high fat, low carbohydrate) diet seems to work for some children. Should medications fail to control seizures in two years, a referral to a comprehensive epilepsy center for a thorough evaluation is the suggested course of action.


Do women have any special concerns or needs?
Women with epilepsy need to consult with an obstetrician/gynecologist and neurologist prior to planning a family. Oral contraceptives have a higher failure rate in women who take antiepileptic drugs. One-third of the women with epilepsy have more seizures during hormonal fluctuations such as during menses, pregnancy and menopause; the other two-thirds either have fewer seizures or experience no change.


What about the children of epileptic mothers?
More than 90% of women with epilepsy will have a normal, healthy child. The incidence of major malformations in the general population is about 1%. If a woman is experiencing active seizures that require AED therapy during pregnancy, the rate doubles.


What can be done to help avoid risk during pregnancy?
Pregnancy may necessitate a change in dosage and/or type of medication. Several commonly used AEDS have been linked to birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft palate. A minimun dose (0.4 mg) of folic acid is recommended before and during pregnancy. Oral vitimin K supplementation is recommended during the last month of pregnancy for some women.


What are the social concerns of people with epilepsy?
For many people with epilepsy, public attitudes are still more of a problem than the medical condition itself. Greater awareness and education are key to changing negative public attitudes toward epilepsy.


What can be done to help?
Building partnerships with governmental, private, and other non-profit epilepsy service providers is helping create an environment wherein persons with epilepsy can be seizure-free, able to work, drive and be more productive citizens, and when necessary seek assistance without stigma or discrimination.

Last updated April 11, 2014