5 Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disability that, when untreated, can result in recurrent, unprovoked seizures.  A person is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have two unprovoked seizures (or one unprovoked seizure with the likelihood of more) that were not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like extremely low blood sugar or alcohol or other drug use. Childhood epilepsy can occur from exposure to toxins, physical injury, unexpected accidents or prolonged deprivations.  (See additional conditions in links.)  Epilepsy can be found in all regions of the world, among all economic classes/races/ages and in all time periods.  It is often said to be the oldest known disability, with multiple documentation in ancient texts, even Judeo-Christian bibles!

Current research, treatment and advocacy efforts have resulted in clearer definitions of terms and improved outcomes for individuals.  As the Epilepsy Foundation writes, “Epilepsy is a condition characterized by an enduring predisposition toward epileptic seizures and by the neurobiological, cognitive, psychological, and social consequences of this condition.”  “Epilepsy is a condition characterized by an enduring predisposition toward epileptic seizures and by the neurobiological, cognitive, psychological, and social consequences of this condition.”  – The Epilepsy Foundation Thus a seizure is an event and epilepsy is the ongoing, recurrent incidences of unprovoked seizures.  There are myriad medical treatments, yet as in all developmental disabilities there is no cure.

According to the August 11, 2017, “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 3.4 million people in the U.S. live with seizures, including 470,000 children.  U.S. citizens are a small fraction of the 65 MILLION people around the world who have epilepsy.

Many people with epilepsy have more than one type of seizure and may have other symptoms of neurological problems as well. Sometimes EEG (electroencephalogram) testingclinical history, family history, and outlook are similar among a group of people with epilepsy. In these situations, their condition can be defined as a specific epilepsy syndrome.

Types of Seizures

Specialists now categories 3 major groups of seizures.

  • Generalized onset seizures: These seizures affect both sides of the brain or groups of cells on both sides of the brain at the same time. This term was used before and still includes tonic-clonic,absence, or atonic seizures types.
  • Focal onset seizures: The term focal is used instead of partial to be more accurate when talking about where seizures begin. Focal seizures can start in one area or group of cells in one side of the brain.
    • Focal Onset Aware Seizures: When a person is awake and aware during a seizure, it’s called a focal aware seizure. This used to be called a simple partial seizure.
    • Focal Onset Impaired Awareness: When a person is confused or their awareness is affected in some way during a focal seizure, it’s called a focal impaired awareness seizure. This used to be called a complex partial seizure.
  • Unknown onset seizures: When the beginning of a seizure is not known, it’s now called an unknown onset seizure. A seizure could also be called an unknown onset if it’s not witnessed or seen by anyone, for example when seizures happen at night or in a person who lives alone.
    • As more information is learned, an unknown onset seizure may later be diagnosed as a focal or generalized seizure.

Even with today’s medication, epilepsy CANNOT be cured. Epilepsy is a chronic issue that for many people CAN be successfully treated. Unfortunately, treatment doesn’t work for everyone. At least 1 million people in the United States have uncontrolled epilepsy. There is still an urgent need for additional research. More effective treatments, and more efficient less cumbersome monitoring products are being developed as well.   What most people with epilepsy really desire is more positive tolerance from society, with the elimination of stigma and prejudice.[1]

  1. Page adapted from: https://www.epilepsy.com and https://www.epilepsy.com/article/2014/4/revised-definition