Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that results from the generation of electrical signals inside of the brain that produces seizures that affect both mental and physical functions. During normal brain function, millions of electrical charges pass between nerve cells in the brain and between all parts of the body. In a person with epilepsy, this normal activity is interrupted with sudden bursts of electrical energy that are much more intense than usual.
Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Symptoms of an epileptic seizure vary but some of the symptoms include convulsions, loss of consciousness, blank stares and jerking movements of extremities. When a person has two or more seizures, he or she is said to have epilepsy.
There are many different types of epilepsy, depending on the extent and place in the brain of the electrical disturbance. A partial seizure is one where the electrical outbursts occur in only one area of the brain; a generalized seizure may affect nerve cells throughout the brain.
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Epilepsy can occur at any age but occurs more frequently in the elderly and very young. About 30 percent of the 200,000 new cases every year begin in childhood, particularly in early childhood and around the time of adolescence. Another period of relatively high incidence is in people over the age of 65. Men are at slightly more risk of developing epilepsy than women. About one in 10 adults will have an unprovoked seizure at some time in his or her life.
In addition there are certain populations at higher risk for developing epilepsy:
- Children with mental retardation and cerebral palsy
- Alzheimer patients
- Stroke patients
- Patients with cardiovascular problems
- Children who had one parent who had epilepsy
- People who have already had one seizure
- Racial minorities have a higher incidence as compared to Caucasians
- Epilepsy and seizures affect nearly 3 million Americans of all ages.
- Approximately 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy occur each year.
- Ten percent of the American population will experience a seizure at some point in their life.
- In 70 percent of new cases of epilepsy, no cause is apparent.
- Seventy percent of people with epilepsy can be expected to enter remission (five or more years seizure-free) on medication.
- Because epilepsy affects brain function, seizures can produce temporary confusion, a staring spell, uncontrollable jerking movements of your arms and legs, or even loss of consciousness.
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