Epilepsy

One in six Americans
are affected by neurological disorders

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, about 181,000 Americans will develop seizures and epilepsy each year, and more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. are currently living with the disorder.

Epilepsy involves recurrent seizures brought on by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. Depending on the part of the brain that is stimulated, seizures may be associated with unusual sensations, uncontrollable muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.

There are many possible causes of epilepsy including brain injury, infection, stroke, nutritional imbalance, tumor, hereditary brain disease, high fever, lead poisoning, maternal injury, and degenerative disease. In approximately 70% of diagnosed cases, no cause is ever found.

Epilepsy: Symptoms

Having seizures is the defining characteristic of epilepsy. Seizures vary from a momentary disruption of the senses, to short periods of unconsciousness or staring spells, to convulsions. Some people have just one type of seizure. Others have more than one type.

Seizure symptoms include:

  • A convulsion with or without a fever
  • Short periods of blackout or confused memory
  • Occasional “fainting spells” in which bladder or bowel control is lost, followed by extreme fatigue
  • Episodes of blank staring
  • Brief periods of no response to questions or instructions
  • Sudden stiffening or falls for no apparent reason
  • Episodes of blinking or chewing at inappropriate times
  • Dazed behavior; being unable to talk or communicate for a short time
  • Repeated movements that look out of place or unnatural
  • Sudden fear, anger, or panic for no reason
  • Odd changes in the way things look, sound, smell or feel
  • Muscle jerks of arms, legs, or body

Epilepsy: Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on a detailed patient history and physical examination. If a patient has a history of two or more seizures, a diagnosis of epilepsy is likely. If your doctor suspects epilepsy, he or she may request an electroencephalogram (EEG) to test the brain waves or an MRI to evaluate the brain for structural abnormalities.

Epilepsy: Treatment

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 80 percent of patients diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled either with prescription anti-epileptics (or anticonvulsants) or through surgical procedures.

In 1997, the FDA approved vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for use in patients with seizures. VNS is a procedure in which the doctor surgically implants a small device under the patient’s skin in the upper chest area. The device sends electrical impulses to the brain, which help to reduce the frequency of seizures.

In the most common of the other surgical options, the surgeon removes the part of the brain where the seizures occur.

Epilepsy: Resources

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)
223 W. Erie, Suite 2SW
Chicago, IL, 60654
Email: info@CUREepilepsy.org
Tel: 800-765-7118 or 312-255-1801
Fax: 312-255-1809

Epilepsy Foundation
8301 Professional Place
Landover, MD 20785-7223
info@efa.org
Tel: 800-EFA-1000 (332-1000)
Fax: 301-577-2684

The Epilepsy Foundation of Metropolitan New York (formerly The Epilepsy Institute)
257 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010
Tel: 212-677-8550
Fax: 212-677-5825

Family Caregiver Alliance/National Center on Caregiving
180 Montgomery Street
Suite 1100
San Francisco, CA 94104
info@caregiver.org
Tel: 415-434-3388  or 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

National Family Caregivers Association
10400 Connecticut Avenue
Suite 500
Kensington, MD 20895-3944
info@thefamilycaregiver.org
Tel: 301-942-6430  or 800-896-3650
Fax: 301-942-2302

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
RN@rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100
Voice Mail:  800-999-NORD (800-999- 6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

International RadioSurgery Association (IRSA)
P.O. Box 5186
Harrisburg, PA 17110
getinfo@irsa.org
Tel: 717-260-9808
Fax: 717-260-9809

Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry
MGH East, CNY-149, 10th Floor
149 13th Street
Charlestown, MA 02129-2000
ebaldwin@partners.org
Tel: 888-AED-AED4 (233-2334)
Fax: 617-724-8307

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