There are over 3 million people living with epilepsy in the United States. Each year in the U.S., there are approximately 150,000 new epilepsy diagnoses. It affects people of all ages and is the fourth most common neurological disorder. So, just what exactly is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a disease associated with repeated, unprovoked seizures. Unprovoked seizures occur for unknown reasons, genetic factors, etc. Provoked seizures, on the other hand, occur as a response to an event that has happened to an individual like drugs or alcohol, trauma,etc. Anyone can have a provoked seizure and they do not equate to an epilepsy diagnosis.

With epilepsy, the type and frequency of seizure vary from person to person, and may in turn affect other parts of the body. The brain is the powerhouse of the human body, and ultimately the source of epilepsy symptoms. Sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain, also commonly referred to as “electrical storms,” are one way to describe an epileptic seizure.

Some people suffer from only one unprovoked seizure, but possess other risk factors that make it very likely for them to have another. Many doctors treat these individuals as though they have epilepsy. Some even suffer from what is deemed an epilepsy syndrome. Epilepsy syndromes are characterized by a cluster of features and symptoms that occur together, allowing for different diagnoses.

How is epilepsy diagnosed? 

In order to reach an epilepsy diagnosis, many other conditions must be ruled out. In 2005 the definition of epilepsy was reevaluated by the task force commissioned by the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). According to the new definition, a person is considered to have epilepsy if they meet any of the following conditions:

  • At least 2 unprovoked seizures occurring more than 24 hours apart.
  • One unprovoked seizure, and a probability similar to the general recurrence risk (about 60%) of further seizures after two unprovoked seizures, occurring over the next 10 years.
  • An epilepsy syndrome diagnosis.
    • Those with an age-dependent epilepsy syndrome diagnosis are resolved if they are now past the applicable age, or have remained seizure free for the last 10 years, and free of anti-seizure medications for the last 5.

It can be hard to pinpoint an epilepsy diagnosis. For 6 out of 10 people with epilepsy, the cause can’t be determined. It’s more common in young children and older adults, with males slightly more affected. While most children of parents with epilepsy do not develop the disease, genetics do seem to play a minor role, increasing the risk of development from 2% to around 5%.

Living with epilepsy can be a challenge because you never know when a seizure may occur, or what be a may trigger. Epilepsy is also often accompanied by learning disabilities and social challenges in children. While there is no cure for epilepsy, treatment can make all the difference. If you’re seeking new treatment options for you or your child’s epilepsy symptoms, a new clinical study is enrolling now at Northwest Florida Clinical Research Group. Qualified participants receive care from board-certified physicians and close medical monitoring throughout the study.  Study participants and their caregivers often learn valuable information about caring for their condition as well.  Compensation is also provided for time and travel expenses. 

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