• By Deborah Balzer

Demystifying epilepsy and increasing awareness

November 22, 2016

medical illustration of a brain with epilepsy; a seizure hotspot; and the motor, language and visual areas

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

Epilepsy, also known as a seizure disorder, is a neurological condition affecting the nervous system. Epileptic seizures are caused by disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain. These seizures may be related to a brain injury or a family tendency, but most of the time the cause is unknown. In fact, in two-thirds of patients diagnosed with epilepsy, the cause is unknown.

Dr. Joseph Sirven, chair of Neurology at Mayo Clinic Arizona, says, "Epilepsy can affect anyone at any age. One out of 26 Americans have a risk of developing epilepsy. Some people are born with it. Some may have a genetic reason for their seizures. Head trauma, infections, strokes, hemorrhages and even Alzheimer's disease can potentially cause seizures or epilepsy."

Watch: Dr. Joseph Sirven discusses epilepsy.

Journalists: Broadcast quality sound bites with Dr. Sirven are in the downloads.

Misinformation and epilepsy stereotypes often prevent people with this seizure disorder from getting needed care. "There's a strong stigma that has existed for many years that only through talking about it that you can find a way to mitigate it and lessen its impact," says Dr. Sirven.

Some forms of epilepsy are curable, says Dr. Sirven. "There are some surgeries, for instance, that are done for epilepsy if you are a candidate and have a discreet location that can be eliminated. And there are other epilepsies that are not curable but may be controllable."

 "Every brain has a potential to have a seizure. It just depends on what the circumstances are, and what the conditions are that may lead to a seizure or epilepsy in some people." - Dr. Sirven

For home management options, Dr. Sirven stresses to avoid alcohol, get plenty of rest and to find ways to manage stress. He says if those options don't work, "Treatment starts out with medication. We have more than 20 of these available in the US. There are surgical options if medication does work. There are implantable devices that act like pacemakers if surgery is not an option. There's also a ketogenic diet and so many options out there. And, importantly, so many more options are being explored for its management."

Dr. Sirven says if you have questions about seizures or epilepsy there are many resources available to help you better understand and manage the chronic condition.

Learn more about Epilepsy research at Mayo Clinic and visit the Epilepsy Foundation.

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