A Brief Background of Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a generic term for a variety of seizure disorders characterized by chronic recurring seizures. It is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder. A seizure is a disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain. Essentially brief temporary changes in the brain’s electrical system produce a sudden overload. This disturbance affects the brain’s normal functions and produces changes in a person’s movement, behavior or consciousness.
There are at least 20 types of seizures. More than 2.5 million people in the US and 40 million worldwide have some form of epilepsy. In San Diego County over 50,000 people have the condition. A large number of children and adults have undetected or untreated epilepsy.
One in every 10 Americans will have at least one seizure in their lives, though in most cases they do not actually develop epilepsy. Nonetheless about 150,000* cases of epilepsy are diagnosed every year.
Basic Epilepsy Resources
Age of Onset
Anyone can develop epilepsy at any time. Current statistics show that 20% of cases begin between birth and age 5, 30% between ages 5 and 25, and 50% in middle and late adulthood.
In about 70 percent of cases there is no known cause. Where a reason for the onset of seizures can be identified, the most frequent causes include:
- Heredity -though, in fact, the risk of getting epilepsy is only 2.5 times greater with a family history of seizures than when no family member has had the disorder
- Head trauma – the more severe the injury, the greater the risk of developing epilepsy
- Brain tumor
- Poisoning – such as lead poisoning. More than 5,000 people annually suffer seizures caused by alcoholism. Drug abuse also can play a part
- Infection – such as meningitis, viral encephalitis, lupus erythematosus, and, less frequently, mumps, measles and diphtheria
- Maternal injury – such as infection or systemic illness affecting the fetus’ developing brain during pregnancy
- Metabolic imbalances
- Cerebra vascular complications – strokes; arteriovenous malformation (AVM)