50 Million People Worldwide Who Have Epilepsy Can Bring Seizures Under Control with Early Diagnosis and Medication

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Patients who do not control their seizures face 15-times-higher rates of sudden death, says expert from a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic

Imad Najm, M.D., Director of the Shor Epilepsy Center at Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland, Ohio: More than 50 million people with epilepsy worldwide can bring their seizures under control thanks to early diagnosis and treatment with anti-seizure medication(s), says an expert at a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic, ahead of International Epilepsy Day on 8 February.

Imad Najm, M.D., Director of the Shor Epilepsy Center at Cleveland Clinic, said: “Families should be aware that epilepsy can be treated successfully, with the aim for complete seizure control. Uncontrolled seizures (in particular convulsive seizures) may increase the risk of sudden unexplained death by 15 times. Full seizure control prevents premature death, and could even improve mental health by reducing the incidence of depression and anxiety that are frequently associated with the disease.”

Epilepsy is one of the world’s most common neurological diseases. About 50 million people worldwide suffer from recurring epileptic seizures, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Epileptic seizures, which can be short in duration (one to two minutes), are caused by abnormal or excessive electrical discharges from brain cells.

However, one of the biggest challenges is that many people with epilepsy do not know that they suffer from the disease. “While seizures are one of the most common symptoms of epilepsy, many people who have epilepsy do not have convulsions,” said Dr. Najm. “In our discussions with families, we learn that some children have been misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they have actually been experiencing epileptic ‘psychologenic seizures,’ such as staring off into space, or exhibit uncontrolled chewing movements or smack their lips.”

Dr Najm emphasized that diagnosing epilepsy can be fairly quick and easy. The diagnosis can be done through an electroencephalogram (EEG) test that records the brain’s electrical activity, and the possible cause of the disease can be assessed through genetic testing and/or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Encouragingly, anti-seizure medications may lead to long-lasting seizure control in about 70 percent of epilepsy patients. For the remaining 30 percent, Dr. Najm said that surgery, vagus nerve or brain stimulation, and diet modification can help patients bring their epilepsy under better control. Without treatment, people who have seizures can fall, drown, or suffer from accidental burns – all of which could contribute to premature death.

Medical research is leading to a new wave of epilepsy treatments. Emerging and future treatments include genetic-based therapies, more focused and less invasive ablations such as thermal ablation, laser surgery, and high-intensity focused ultrasound.

Epilepsy may start at any age but is more prevalent in two age groups – during the first two decades of life, and above 65 years of age. Epilepsy in children may be caused by abnormal brain development, low-grade congenital tumors, or genetic mutations. Older people are more likely to have epilepsy caused by head trauma, infections, stroke, brain hemorrhages, or high-grade tumors.

About Cleveland Clinic:

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 67,554 employees worldwide are more than 4,520 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,000 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,026-bed health system that includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 18 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2019, there were 9.8 million total outpatient visits, 309,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 255,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries.