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Understanding epilepsy

SAN FRANCISCO--For nearly three thousand years, people believed that epilepsy had a supernatural cause. But the most dangerous misconception about epilepsy is a modern one, according to epilepsy expert Jerome Engel, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.--many people, including physicians, still believe that epilepsy can't be treated.

"Epilepsy and epileptic seizures are far more common than people realize," said Dr. Engel, Jonathan Sinay Professor of Neurology and Neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, chief of epilepsy and clinical neurophysiology at the UCLA Center for the Health Sciences and director of the UCLA Seizure Disorder Center, Reed Neurological Research Center, Los Angeles.

Dr. Engel spoke today at an American Medical Association media briefing in partnership with the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Epilepsy Society at the AAN's annual meeting in San Francisco.

Epileptic seizures are a sign of brain dysfunction. "A very simple way to explain a seizure might be as overactivity in the brain, often, though not always, the result of an injury," he said. "Epilepsy is the chronic condition that results when these brain disturbances persist. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital, because seizures should be stopped before the patient suffers irreversible damage."

Forty million people worldwide have epilepsy. Five to 10 percent of the U.S. population will have a seizure during their lifetime and of those, 30 percent will develop epilepsy. The burden of this disease, however, can't be understood simply through the numbers, according to Dr. Engel.

"Uncontrolled epilepsy presents an enormous personal burden," said Dr. Engel. "Seizures happen without warning and are frightening and embarrassing; they can result in accidental injury or even death. Imagine the restrictions this places on an active life. A person with epilepsy can't drive a car, hold certain jobs, or participate fully in recreational acti
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Contact: Dan Page
dpage@support.ucla.edu
310-794-0777
American Medical Association
26-Apr-2004


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