Epilepsy is more common than Parkinson's, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy combined but is widely misunderstood and can significantly impact a person's life.
Epilepsy Action Australia, the largest provider of services for people living with epilepsy in Australia, is advocating for greater recognition for epilepsy as a spectrum disorder, meaning that the 250,000 Australians living with epilepsy experience the condition differently.
"Epilepsy occurs on a spectrum, like autism," Carol Ireland, CEO of Epilepsy Action Australia, said.
"In some cases it is genetic, but epilepsy can also be acquired by things such as head injury, infection or stroke, and it can occur at any point in a person's life, from infancy to old age, many people do not know why they have epilepsy.
"Epilepsy also varies in severity and frequency from person to person and seizures differ as well, from a momentary pause and staring into space to full body convulsions.
"In fact, there are actually about 40 different types of epilepsy which can either involve the whole brain or part of the brain."
Neurologist Professor Terry O'Brien, President of the Epilepsy Society of Australia and Director of Neurology at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital, says that the growing recognition of epilepsy's complexity means that there is not one way to treat or manage the condition and different forms of epilepsy require an array of personalised therapeutic approaches.
"Approximately 70 per cent of all patients can have their seizures controlled with anti-epileptic medication," Professor O'Brien said.
"For those who don't respond to drugs, advanced imaging techniques may allow them to benefit from surgery. Yet epilepsy still has no cure - for many, it is a lifelong, chronic disorder."
Key Epilepsy Facts
- Epilepsy is a neurological disorder and seizures are caused by a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain. Epilepsy is not necessarily lifelong. Some epilepsies are age related and can be outgrown, and up to 70 per cent of people with epilepsy become seizure free with medication.
- Approximately 800,000 Australians will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime.
- While seizures can begin at any age, epilepsy is most frequently diagnosed in early childhood, adolescence and in people over 65 years.
- Children represent around 40 per cent of the population with epilepsy.
- There are around 40 different types of epilepsy and epilepsy syndromes.
- Epilepsy is certainly no barrier to achievement - Socrates, Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven are all thought to have had epilepsy. Contemporary well-known figures who speak openly about their epilepsy include Hugo Weaving and Danny Glover, Neil Young and Susan Boyle, and rugby league legend Wally Lewis.
- Although most people with epilepsy do live with near-normal lives, quite a few carry the burden of their condition daily in many different ways beyond seizures. Challenges include having access to high-quality healthcare, medication, difficulties in education, gaining employment, financial constraints, finding safe and affordable housing, as well as social isolation."
The Epilepsy Action Australia team is made up of registered nurses and educators and has been serving the community for over six decades. For more information visit www.epilepsy.org.au.