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November Is National Epilepsy Awareness Month

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Missourians made more visits to emergency room hospitals for epilepsy in 2006 compared to 2000, and educating people about the condition and its treatment is the goal of National Epilepsy Awareness Month, observed in November.

Epilepsy can occur at any age and at any time. It is a common neurological condition that makes a person susceptible to seizures. A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness or behavior brought about by a brief electrical disturbance in the brain. Seizures vary from a momentary disruption of the senses, to short periods of unconsciousness or staring spells, to full-blown convulsions. Around 2.5 million Americans have the disorder, according to the Missouri Developmental Disability Resource Center, and approximately 300,000 are children under the age of 14.

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"Epilepsy is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person," said Gary Harbison, chief of the department's Bureau of Special Health Care Needs, which provides help to Missouri children affected by epilepsy who meet medical and financial guidelines. "In many cases, epilepsy can be linked to an accident, disease or medical trauma, such as complications during childbirth, a stroke, or genetic disorders. Often, epilepsy has no known cause."

Whatever the cause, epilepsy is generally not the kind of condition that gets worse with time. Most adults who have it can expect to live a normal life span. Doctors treat epilepsy primarily with seizure-preventing medicines. Initial diagnosis is usually based on an individual's medical history. Follow-up testing may be ordered to help identify the cause, but one thing is certain: early identification and adequate treatment greatly decrease a person's risk for subsequent seizures and brain damage.

Two departmental programs provide help to Missouri children affected by epilepsy who meet certain guidelines. The Healthy Children and Youth Program assists families by identifying and authorizing medical supports necessary for a child to live at home. The Children with Special Health Care Needs Program focuses on early identification, treatment and service coordination for children with epilepsy and other special health care needs.

"With these two programs, we've helped around 800 Missouri children affected by epilepsy over the past three years," said Harbison.