Epilepsy: the Stigma and Survival

Topics: Epilepsy, Seizure, Neurology Pages: 9 (3005 words) Published: November 27, 2010

People with epilepsy are socially discriminated against on the grounds of wide-spread negative public attitudes, misunderstandings, and defensive behavior. Although few studies have been conducted to explore the experience of stigma in children and adults with epilepsy, it appears that these involved do worry about the problem and that this worry can affect emotional development. Though the most overt examples of discrimination and prejudice have faded with time, epilepsy still receives too little attention, either from the medical community or the public at large.

The word, Epilepsy, originates from the ancient Greek word “epilepsia", meaning seizure. Since the dawn of time, epilepsy has affected millions of people, from beggars to kings (Devinsky, 2002). It’s one of the oldest conditions of the human race with a rich and distinguished history. The earliest references to epilepsy dates back to the first millennium B.C. in Mesopotamia, where epileptic auras, generalized convulsions and other aspects of what these ancient people called “the falling sickness” were thought to be caused by demons possessing the person (Devinsky, 2002). In ancient Egypt, epilepsy was considered a sacred disease that a god had entered the person. From around the 9th century, particularly in German and English-speaking regions, Christians considered Saint Valentine (SV) to be a significant patron saint of the ‘‘falling sickness” (Masia et al, 1999, p27). From the 15th century to the present day, Christian art has portrayed people with epilepsy as attributes in illustrations of Saint Valentine (Masia et al, 1999, p27). According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America (2006), in many countries legislation reflects years of misunderstanding about epilepsy for example: in both China and India, epilepsy is commonly viewed as a reason for prohibiting or annulling marriages; in the United Kingdom, a law forbidding people with epilepsy to marry was repealed in 1970; in the United States, until the 1970s, it was legal to deny people with seizures access to restaurants, theatres, recreational centers and other public buildings. Today’s knowledge of the disease can better assist individuals’ needs than it did years back. New discoveries and advancements in how to deal and treat the disease are being made everyday. According to the EFA (2009), current estimates, approximately 2.7 million Americans have epilepsy, and about 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

An estimated 10% of Americans will experience, at least, one seizure at some point, one in 40 people will experience a febrile seizure (due to high fever) sometime in their life and approximately 3% will be diagnosed with chronic epilepsy by age 80 (Bazil, 2004). The prevalence of chronic epilepsy is even higher in resource-poor countries with 6 to 10 cases per 1000 reported. Research indicates that higher rates of epilepsy are experienced by racial and ethnic minorities, people of lower socio-economic status living in rural areas, and caucasian males (Hayden et al, 1992, p192). It’s the second most serious neurological disorder, after migraines. A chronic disorder characterized by recurrent seizures that are paroxysmal, abnormal electrical discharges of the central nervous system that cause the signs and symptoms that interfere with normal functioning. Epilepsy is classified into three divisions; partial (focal) epilepsy, the seizures are focused to a limited portion of the brain; generalized epilepsy, the seizures effect the whole brain; and partial seizures with secondary generalization, the seizure begins in a focal area and travels to effect the whole brain. For an adult, the most common area of the brain for a seizure to occur is the temporal lobe. There may be a secondary reason for this consisting of a toxic infection, metabolic, low blood sugars or trauma to the brain. For children, the common type seizure is an absence seizure. This will affect the whole brain and...
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