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More than 500,000 people in the UK have epilepsy (50 million people worldwide)
One in 100 people have epilepsy. It is three times more common than multiple sclerosis and more than three times as common as parkinson's disease and cerebral palsy.
One person in 50 will develop epilepsy at some time in their life. One in 20 will have a single epileptic seizure.
Epilepsy is diagnosed on the basis of two or more epileptic seizures. A seizure may be triggered when the electrical activity of the brain is disrupted. 80 cases are diagnosed every NHS working day.
Everyone's brain has the ability to produce a seizure. In someone with epilepsy, it could simply be that their brain has a low seizure resistance. Other causes include scarring on the brain because of head injury or stroke, the result of an infection such as meningitis, or brain tumours. In some people there is no known cause.
Epilepsy can develop at any age. However, it is diagnosed most often before the age of 20 and after the age of 60.
Once diagnosed with epilepsy, a patient is usually started on anti-epileptic medication. This treatment controls seizures in up to 75% of patients.
Surgery can help a small number of people with epilepsy whose seizures do not respond to currently available medication (approx 3%).
There are many different seizure types. These include:
- absences involving staring, fluttering of the eyelids and a brief interruption of consciousness
- simple partial - jerking of a limb, numbness, tingling, an aura
- complex partial - confused behaviour and automatisms such as plucking at clothes, lip-smacking
tonic clonic - the most dramatic and best known convulsive seizure. Seizures may appear differently from one person to another.
There are 1,000 epilepsy-related deaths a year, approximately 600 of which are attributable to SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). Epilepsy claims more lives in England and Wales each year than AIDS and cot death combined.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of mortality. Taking medication regularly reduces seizure frequency - the highest risk factor. Avoiding triggers such as lack of sleep, alcohol or stress can also reduce seizures. Showering rather than bathing and observing safe practices in the home can reduce risk of accidents.