Sarah Stultz: About 1 in 26 people have epilepsy in U.S.

Published 10:00 pm Monday, October 30, 2017

Nose for News, By Sarah Stultz

Tomorrow marks the start of November and, for me, a very significant month: National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

More than five years and about nine months ago, my husband and I became part of a club of parents who have watched their child have a seizure.

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My son, Landon, was only 7 days old at the time. His first seizures were simply rhythmic eye blinking, but by the time we had taken him to the emergency room, he experienced a full-blown, tonic-clonic seizure.

To watch emergency personnel load your newborn son onto a helicopter to be flown to Rochester is horrifying to say the least.

In the months and years since, Landon has had many more seizures, and we have gone through that horror again and again. Not until this last year did we have a doctor who actually told us that Landon’s seizures were technically disagnosed as epilepsy.

We have since tried to arm ourselves with research about this condition in hopes of understanding what Landon is going through — though there are still many unknowns.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, approximately one in 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime.

There are 150,000 new cases of epilepsy in the United States each year, and a total of 3 million people in the country — and 65 million people across the world — who have the condition.

The foundation states, “Epilepsy is a chronic condition of the brain that affects people all over the world. It is characterized by recurring seizures — which are physical reactions to sudden, brief, excessive electrical discharges in brain cells.”

“Although most people think of a seizure as a full-body convulsion, seizures can also be brief muscle jerks or unconscious behaviors like picking at clothing or what appears to be a lapse of attention, like daydreaming.”

Of people with epilepsy, six out of every 10 have an unknown cause.

A statistic I found extremely telling was that more people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy — combined.

Before my son started having seizures, it wasn’t something I had heard much about, and I have grown to think it is something that needs to be talked about more.

I tell most of the people who may be around my son how to recognize a seizure and what to do if they see him having one. In fact, I think this is good practice for anyone to know — particularly with how common epilepsy is.

Though everyone with epilepsy is different, Landon carries an emergency medication with him 24/7 in case of certain types of seizures that last over three minutes.

I hope to continue educating next month about epilepsy and the need for further research into this condition.

As the Epilespy Foundation states, “the more everyone talks about epilepsy, the less people living with the condition have to fear discrimination, worry about receiving improper first aid or keep their epilepsy hidden in the shadows.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.