Record number of Americans living with epilepsy

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Federal health officials recently stated that there are more Americans living with epilepsy than ever before and that the condition is widespread throughout the country.  The report was published in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report which is the first time this report has given estimates on the number of individuals with epilepsy for all 50 states.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder causing people to have recurring seizures. The seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain send out the wrong signals.  The symptoms of a seizure can affect any part of the body but the electrical events that produce the symptoms occur in the brain. 

Because of the unknown nature of when a seizure might occur, epilepsy is a condition affecting individual’s safety, work, ability to drive and relationships. 

Some quick facts from the Epilepsy Foundation:

·      Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and affects people of all ages.

·      Epilepsy means the same thing as “seizure disorders”

·      Epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable seizures and can cause other health problems

·      Epilepsy is a spectrum condition with a wide range of seizure types and control varying from person-to-person

·      Public perception and misunderstanding of epilepsy causes challenges often worse than the seizures

More than half of all cases of epilepsy have no known cause.  Other possible causes can be due to stroke, brain tumor, head injury, central nervous system infections, genetic risks or brain diseases such as dementia. 

Epilepsy can be controlled for most people with medications, surgery or devices that stimulate the brain.

Findings from the report

What the report found was that 1.2 percent of the population – about 3 million adults and 470,000 children – are either being treated for epilepsy or had experienced a seizure in 2015.  In 2010, the number of adults with epilepsy was 2.3 million while epilepsy in children rose by 20,000 cases between 2007 and 2015.  The investigators with the CDC do not have any clear or definitive answers for the rise in epilepsy other than most likely due to an increase in population.

Data for report was from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey for adults, the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health and the 2015 Current Population Survey (2014 data). 

Other health professionals and epilepsy specialists have other opinions for the increase in the number of people with epilepsy.  One is people are living longer which has made the population increase and therefore it shows an increase in number of seizures.  Also, doctors are getting better at diagnosing epilepsy.  They are doing more testing when patients come to them with issues such as confusion and finding that they have epilepsy. 

Philip Gattone, president and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation, stated that the report is welcomed as epilepsy has been underreported.  This new finding from the CDC helps to strengthen the Foundation’s value in discovering new treatments and help available.

Since few people are around someone with epilepsy or have a good understanding of the condition, epilepsy is often stigmatized.  Most individuals are not trained to recognize an epileptic seizure or how to help someone having one.  This report can be help get the message out on the growing prevalence of epilepsy giving people a broader understanding of what it is.