Nearly everyone has heard of epilepsy, and most know that it has something to do with seizures, so why do we need an awareness month?
The reality is that epilepsy is poorly understood by medical researchers, and the general public understands even less about it.
Medical research continues to reveal more about the causes of epilepsy and shed light on new ways of treating it, but medicine can only do so much. The stigma of the epilepsy can cause more suffering than seizures, so sufferers need support as much as they need treatment. You can help remove the stigma surrounding epilepsy by educating yourself and others.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a group of chronic brain conditions characterized by recurring seizures. Not all seizures are tied to epilepsy; many things can trigger a seizure. Also, not all epileptic seizures look the same. Most people think of dramatic clonic-tonic seizures, previously called grand mal seizures, which exhibit shaking and twitching. But this is not the only type of seizure.
Some seizures are much less noticeable. Instead of causing twitching or flailing, some seizures are just a brief loss of consciousness. Some involve spasms in only one part of the body. Do not assume that all epileptics have similar experiences.
What Causes Epilepsy?
In most cases, the underlying causes of epilepsy are unknown. Epilepsy can be triggered by a stroke or a brain tumor or head trauma, but more than 60% of cases are idiopathic, meaning that no cause can be discovered.
Luckily, epilepsy can be treated even when the cause is unknown. Treatment consists mainly of anti-epileptic medications. Even though these medications suppress seizures, they cannot cure epilepsy completely. Despite the absence of a cure, epilepsy can often be completely controlled with medication, allowing those with epilepsy to lead completely normal lives.
How Common is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is surprisingly common, affecting an estimated 1% of people worldwide. Although the it is more common in less-developed countries, about 5.1 million Americans have active or dormant epilepsy. So many people are afflicted, so it’s strange that the condition is so poorly understood. This also means that you have almost certainly met someone with epilepsy, even if you didn’t know it.
How Dangerous is Epilepsy?
Most epileptics live normally, but for some people the condition can be life-threatening. Seizures at the wrong time can cause fatal accidents and very intense seizures can be fatal if they last too long.
If you witness a seizure, you can help to mitigate the danger to the victim. Help ease the victim to the ground and then roll them onto their side as the seizure subsides. Also, call 9-11 if it is the first time a person has had a seizure or if the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes.