Epilepsy is a neurological (nerve cell) condition in which the brain experiences electrical disturbances, which leads to seizures.
Epilepsy, also known as ‘seizure disorder’, is a medical condition in which the brain experiences intense surges of electrical activity.1 This produces seizures which affect a variety of mental and physical functions, such as consciousness, body movements or actions.2 People with epilepsy can generally live a full life span; however, they must take precautions to reduce the risk of injuring themselves during seizures.3
Epilepsy can be caused by many medical conditions, from genetic mutations to traumatic brain injury.4 More often than not, no cause can be identified.1
There are many types of seizures, varying from brief disruptions of the senses, to short periods of unconsciousness, to convulsions.2,5 Some symptoms of seizures are not easily recognised by the person experiencing them or by healthcare professionals. These lesser-recognised symptoms can include blank staring, lip smacking, or jerking movements of arms and legs.5
A person is considered to have epilepsy when they have experienced two or more unprovoked seizures.2 It is important to note that all people with epilepsy will have seizures, but not all people with seizures will necessarily be diagnosed with epilepsy.1
In the U.S., it is estimated that 1% of people can be expected to have epilepsy by age 20 and 3% of people by age 75.6 Ten per cent of people in the U.S. will have at least one seizure in their lifetime.6 According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, almost 3 million Americans are affected by epilepsy and seizures.6 Worldwide, 40 million people have epilepsy.7
Epilepsy can occur in people of all ages and races.1 Approximately 200,000 new cases of epilepsy are diagnosed each year, and diagnosis is most common in the age groups of under two years and over 65 years.6
In the US, the annual direct and indirect costs of epilepsy and seizures are estimated at $17.6 billion.6
Seeking diagnosis and care
If the symptoms of epilepsy are experienced, the condition can be diagnosed and managed by many types of doctors, including neurologists, paediatric neurologists, paediatricians, neurosurgeons, internists and family physicians1, depending on the local medical practice and regulations.
Diagnosis is a multi-step process that includes a review of the medical history, a physical examination, tests to analyse blood and other bodily fluids, electroencephalography (EEG), and brain imaging techniques.9 The precise tests and diagnostic tools that are used will vary.8
Following diagnosis of seizures or epilepsy, the next step is to select the appropriate treatment.9 There is no cure for epilepsy,5 but seizures may be managed with regular use of appropriate medications.9 If drugs are unsuccessful, alternative options include surgery, a special diet, complementary therapy or stimulation of vagus nerve simulation.9 Surgery may prevent seizures that are caused by an underlying correctable brain condition.9
All types of treatment for epilepsy should only be received following professional medical advice.
- Epilepsy Foundation. Frequently asked questions. www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/faq.cfm. Accessed10/01/12.
- Epilepsy Foundation. About epilepsy. www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/seizures/index.cfm. Accessed10/01/12.
- Epilepsy Foundation. Health risks. www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/healthrisks/index.cfm. Accessed 10/01/12.
- Rogers SJ, Cavazos JE. Epilepsy. In: DiPiro JT, Talbert RL, Yee GC, et al., eds. Pharmacotherapy: A pathophysiologic approach. 7th edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2008: p927.
- Epilepsy Foundation. What is epilepsy? www.epilepsyfoundation.org/livingwithepilepsy Accessed 10/01/12
- Epilepsy Foundation. Incidence and prevalence. www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/whatisepilepsy/statistics.cfm. Accessed10/01/12.
- World Health Organization. The global burden of disease. 2004 update. www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/2004_report_update/en/index.html. Accessed10/01/12.
- Epilepsy Foundation. Diagnosis. www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/Diagnosis/index.cfm. Accessed 10/01/12.
- Epilepsy Foundation. Treatment. www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/treatment/index.cfm. Accessed 10/01/12.