More People May Develop Epilepsy
Dec. 29, 2010 - How likely are you to develop epilepsy? Perhaps more likely than you thought.
One in every 26 people in the U.S. may develop epilepsy at some point in life, a new study says. That’s a higher rate than previously believed – about one in 100, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which nerve cells sometimes signal abnormally. These abnormal signals can cause strange sensations and sometimes convulsions, or seizures, and loss of consciousness. Although epilepsy can affect people at any age, older adults are at greater risk.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City collected data on the residents of Rochester, Minn., to learn how many had been diagnosed with epilepsy between 1960 and 1979. From this information, they now predict that one in 26 people will develop epilepsy in his or her lifetime. They found that the average lifetime risk for epilepsy for people of all ages up to age 87 increased from 3.5 percent in the 1960s to 4.2 percent during the 1970s.
When the researchers broke out the risk by age group, they found that the lifetime risk for epilepsy was 1.6 percent up to age 50 and 3 percent up to age 80. Lifetime risk means a person's risk for epilepsy over his or her remaining life.
According to the NINDS, epilepsy often develops in older adults because of brain damage caused by other disorders, such as brain tumors and Alzheimer’s disease. Strokes, heart attacks, and other cerebrovascular problems that rob the brain of oxygen may also cause epilepsy.
“The study suggests up to 12 million Americans will develop epilepsy, which is a greater number than expected,” says neurologist Joseph I. Sirven, M.D., chairman-elect of the Epilepsy Foundation's professional advisory board.
The study will be published in the Jan. 4 issue of the journal Neurology.
For about 80 percent of people diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with medication or surgery.
“Epilepsy has a major impact on public health,” says Edwin Trevathan, M.D., at St. Louis University’s School of Public Health and author of an accompanying editorial in the journal. He urged a national effort to collect more data on epilepsy, as well as on the effectiveness of treatment and care.
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During a seizure, brain neurons may send signals much faster than normal – up to 500 times a second, the NINDS says. More than 30 types of seizures have been identified.
If you have epilepsy, here are tips to help you manage your seizures:
• Learn all you can about the type of seizures you have.
• Know the dose of all the medications you take, as well as when you need to take them.
• Know what side effects your medications may cause.
• Talk with your doctor before taking other medications. Seizure medications can interact with many other drugs.
• Find out what your state laws say about operating a motor vehicle.
You may not need to take seizure medication for the rest of your life. Some people may be able to halt their medication after they have been seizure-free for at least two years. Your doctor will determine if this is appropriate for you.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.