Epilepsy is the commonest neurological disorder of the brain, it
is the least understood. It knows no geographical, racial or social
class boundaries. Anyone can be affected by seizures. Epilepsy affects
approximately 7 per 1000 of the general population - around 40 million
people globally. The figure for the number of people who may have
at least one seizure during their lifetime is even greater - at
5% of the world's population.
is characterized by a tendency to recurrent seizures, often resulting
in unconsciousness, sensory disturbance - [including hearing, vision
and taste] - and disruptions in mood and mental function. Seizures
are the result of sudden, usually brief, excessive electrical discharges
in a group of brain cells ( or neurons). Different parts of the
brain can be affected, with distinct clinical repercussions. Epilepsy
can have profound physical and psychological consequences, including
sudden death, injuries, low self-esteem and mood disorders. Epilepsy
responds to treatment in up to 70% of cases - however, due to the
ignorance surrounding the disease, as well as social and economic
factors, three out of four epilepsy sufferers worldwide receive
no treatment at all. In 1990, WHO identified that on average, the
cost of the anti-epileptic drug phenobarbitone -- which alone could
be used to control seizures in a substantial proportion of those
with epilepsy and which is on the WHO list of essential drugs --
could be as low as US$5 per annum per patient.
misunderstanding and the resulting social stigma surrounding epilepsy
can result in social, and sometimes even legal, discrimination against
those living with the condition. All over the world the social consequences
of epilepsy are often the cause of more suffering than the seizures
themselves. Problems are especially felt in the fields of education
and employment, personal relationships and, sometimes, even law.
These attitudes in turn undermine the treatment of the disease/condition,
globally. A fundamental part of ridding the world of the stigma,
which has cost people with epilepsy so dear for so long, is to raise
public and professional awareness and to change the legislation
which reinforces fear and discrimination.
stigma and misunderstanding are to blame for the social isolation
and discrimination experienced so often by people with epilepsy.
Unemployment and underemployment exist worldwide, but more so for
people with epilepsy. In the western world people with epilepsy
often have problems in obtaining and keeping a job. Data from the
United States, Italy and Germany indicate that, of people with epilepsy
of working age, from 40% to 60% are employed (although often in
jobs below their potential), 15% to 20% are unemployed and about
20% retire early.
surrounding epilepsy exist worldwide, mainly created through the
persistence of out-dated superstitions. This has done little to
dispel misunderstanding of epilepsy. For example, it was once widely
believed that a person with epilepsy is seized by a supernatural
force or power. This ancient belief is reflected in the name given
to the disorder -- the word "epilepsy" is derived from the Greek
word "epilepsia", which means "to take hold of" or "to seize"
and is a belief which persists in some traditonal cultures.