Seizures and head injuries – a silent epidemic:
The Daily Beast—Newsweek | The statistics are stark and sobering:
Epilepsy in America is as common as breast cancer, and takes as many lives. A mysterious and widely misunderstood affliction, epilepsy is a disorder in which the brain produces sudden bursts of electrical energy that can interfere with a person’s consciousness, movements or sensations. Up to 50,000 Americans die each year from seizures and related causes, including drownings and other accidents; one in 10 people will suffer a seizure in their lifetimes.
By some estimates, the mortality rate for people with epilepsy is two to three times higher and the risk of sudden death is 24 times greater than that of the general population. There are 200,000 new cases each year, and a total of more than 3 million Americans are affected by it more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease combined.
There is also a rise expected in the incidence of epilepsy among the veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who have sustained traumatic head injuries. Yet public and private funding for research lag far behind other neurological afflictions, at $35 a patient (compared, for instance, with $129 for Alzheimer’s and $280 for multiple sclerosis). It is time to remedy that gap, and to raise epilepsy to the front ranks of public and medical concern.
Epilepsy still receives too little attention, either from the medical community or the public at large. It is thought to be rarely fatal, controllable by medication. There is a terrible irony here: because most people with epilepsy are not in a constant state of seizure—>they are, rather, in perpetual but quiet danger—>their condition can appear less serious than it truly is. It is all too human, but all too true, that a problem, including the problem of a serious medical affliction, stays out of mind when it is out of sight.
Because so many of those who must endure it do so valiantly, and with grace and grit, it is more difficult for those not directly affected by it to grasp that epilepsy can kill. Put harshly, we need more of a cancerlike sensibility around epilepsy. We cannot usually see our friends’ cancer, but we do not hesitate to invest the search for a cure for different cancers with the utmost cultural and political importance. We must now do the same with epilepsy.
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