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Frequently Asked Questions:

What is epilepsy?

Why is epilepsy misunderstood?

What are the symptoms of epilepsy?  

What is the psychosocial impact?

How common is epilepsy and how many are affected?

What are the different kinds of epilepsy? 
What are the different kinds of treatments?


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder of the brain resulting in seizures. One seizure is not considered epilepsy. Epilepsy is "more than one seizure". A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness, behavior brought about by abnormal discharges in neurons in the brain. Normally, neurons carrying electrical impulses form a network allowing communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Neurons "fire" or send electrical impulses toward surrounding cells, stimulating neighboring cells to fire. In people with epilepsy, too many neurons fire at one time, causing an "electrical storm" within the brain. There are more than 20 different types of seizures.

Witnessing a seizure can be a frightening experience for someone who is unfamiliar with epilepsy. This fear can cause the disorder to be perceived far worse than it is. This "fear" dates back to ancient times, when people thought that anyone who experienced a seizure was "possessed by demons". Today, even though many people are affected by epilepsy, it is still a misunderstood condition that continues to attract prejudice and is the source of many social and psychological problems for people with epilepsy.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the following symptoms may indicate someone has epilepsy and a medical exam is advised if one or more of these symptoms are present. The symptoms include:

          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 in children 
          brief periods of no response to questions or instructions 
          sudden falls in a child for no apparent reason 
          episodes of blinking or chewing at inappropriate times 
          a convulsion with or without a fever. 

People with controlled epilepsy are limited more often by public perceptions and stereotypes than by the disorder itself. People with epilepsy can be sensitive to public misperceptions which can make them self-conscious and embarrassed about their condition. Some people with epilepsy refrain from seeking out therapies that could improve their quality of life, because they feel they will invariably face discrimination.  A major needs assessment survey of people affected by epilepsy and their families was conducted and reported in 1992. During the public forums, the following comments were made:

"We need to help people understand what epilepsy is all about."
"Most people with epilepsy will tell you that they have never met anyone with epilepsy."
"There is still a stigma that surrounds epilepsy."
"Epilepsy is a disorder that is still in the closet."
"I feel that the greatest problem any child faces with epilepsy is ignorance and prejudice."

Epilepsy can strike at any time in one's life. About 2.5 million people in the USA have epilepsy. Approximately, 125,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. Anyone can develop epilepsy at any age, but 30% of epilepsy cases are children under 18 years of age and 20% develop epilepsy before the age of 5. Each year, 120,000 children seek medical attention because of a first or newly diagnosed seizure. Of these children, about 37,000 go on to develop recurring seizures or epilepsy.


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