Epilepsy is a general term used to describe a group of related neurological disorders characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures among epileptics can vary in frequency and seriousness and can last a few seconds or a few minutes. Some of the most common seizure triggers among epileptics include bright flashing lights, stress, lack of sleep, illness or fever, and alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs. In most cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown, but the disorder can result from stroke, brain injury, brain tumors, and serious illness or very high fever. Approximately 1.1 percent of the population of the U.S. currently lives with epilepsy, with the disorder occurring equally among men and women.
Epilepsy can usually be managed with medication, although treatment depends on the severity of the disorder. In 2015, around 67 percent of adults in the U.S. with active epilepsy had seen a neurologist or epilepsy specialist in the past year and 90 percent were taking epilepsy medication to control seizures. Nevertheless, only 43.7 percent of men and 43.5 percent of women with epilepsy became seizure-free with epilepsy medication. Cannabis, or more specifically, cannabidol, has recently gained attention as an alternative or add-on therapy to treat seizures associated with rare and severe forms of epilepsy. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first drug comprised of cannabidol to treat such cases of epilepsy.
Having a seizure can result in injury due to falling, drowning, or car accidents, but perhaps the most common cause of death from epilepsy is from sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). SUDEP is still poorly understood, but is assumed to be associated with respiratory, cardiac, and cerebral factors. In 2019, there were 1,852 deaths in the U.S. with epilepsy as the underlying cause. Rates of death from epilepsy are higher for older people, with 1.6 deaths per 100,000 population among those aged 85 years and older, compared to an average rate of around 0.5 among those aged 15 to 24 years.
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