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What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is not a disease, but it is a neurological disorder. Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. The brain controls all of our functions by sending electrical signals through our nerves to control our body’s operation. When a large number neurons or brain cells misfire, which releases electrical energy, it is referred to as a seizure. When an individual has seizures that reoccur overtime, without any precipitating cause, the person is said to have epilepsy, or a seizure disorder.

Most seizures are self limiting and last only a short period of time, but they can, in some instances, be prolonged and become life threatening or life altering events. At this point, there are over 30 different types of seizures. They can range from very subtle events that may go unnoticed, to dramatic events that cannot be ignored. When the seizure is over, brain function returns to normal. Seizures usually last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes in duration.

Seizures are classified by the International League Against Epilepsy, into two categories. Focal or partial seizures, only effect part of the brain. The area involved in the electrical discharge will determine what happens during the event. Consciousness may be completely preserved or altered during a focal or partial seizure.  The other major category is when the electrical discharge involves the entire brain from its onset. This type of seizure is called a generalized seizure. Most, but not all, generalized seizures will involve a complete loss of consciousness.

Anyone at any age can develop epilepsy.

Current research shows that 1 out of every 26 Americans will develop epilepsy and 1 out of every 10 Americans will have at least one seizure in their lives. Epilepsy affects people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds. The condition can develop at any time of life, however, it strikes most often among the very young and the very old. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in children. One or two out of 200 of the today’s population is affected by epilepsy, which  adds up to more than 3.4 million Americans living with epilepsy. Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological disorder, only behind Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It is equal in prevalence to Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease combined.

It is important to remember that epilepsy is not contagious and it does not cause mental illness. It is what you have, not what you are. Most people with epilepsy have average, if not above average IQ’s, and are just like everybody else. Epilepsy is only one part of a person’s life, it should not stand in the way of achievement or success or living life like everyone else!

In more than 7 out of every 10 cases of epilepsy, no exact cause can be found. Some of the known causes include: head injuries, high fever, brain tumors, genetic factors, poisoning, congenital defects or a serious illness that affects the brain (ex: meningitis). Seizures in older people may also be caused by: heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, circulatory problems, diseases affecting the brain, brain tumors or scarring from brain surgery.

Is there a way to prevent epilepsy?

One day, research may be able to find ways to identify people who are at risk for developing epilepsy and to prevent it before it begins, but for now, the only way of preventing epilepsy is by reducing the risks of things that may damage the brain. This includes wearing protective head gear when applicable, and using seat belts and child safety seats in automobiles.