Drive for a Cure

What is Epilepsy?

Historically, epilepsy has been neglected, feared, and misunderstood. A veil of secrecy surrounding the disease has resulted in myths, superstitions, and a general lack of knowledge. This has impeded scientific progress toward finding answers to one of the oldest-known and most prevalent neurological diseases, leaving treatment and research efforts in the dark ages.

It is estimated that close to 2 of the 3 million Americans with epilepsy do not have complete seizure control, or only experience seizure control at the cost of debilitating side effects from medications. The need for a cure is clear.

Many of the patients are children, who can experience up to hundreds of seizures a day. The impact on the developing brain ranges from learning disabilities to retardation, and in a disturbingly large number of patients, even death.

There is an increasingly large incidence of new onset epilepsy in the aging population as a result of strokes, brain tumors, and Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, for many soldiers suffering traumatic brain injury on the battlefield, epilepsy will be a long-term consequence.

When a person has had two or more seizures which have not been provoked by specific events such as trauma, infection, fever, or chemical change, he or she is considered to have epilepsy.

What is a Seizure?

In normal brain function, millions of tiny electrical charges pass from nerve cells in the brain to the rest of the body. A seizure occurs when the normal pattern is interrupted by sudden and unusually intense bursts of electrical energy which may cause strange sensations, emotions, behaviors or convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. These unusual bursts are called seizures.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals (neurotransmitters), or a combination of these factors. Causes of epilepsy may include head injuries, brain tumors, lead poisoning, certain genetic diseases and some infectious diseases. However, in more than half the patients with epilepsy, the cause is still unknown.

Historically, epilepsy research has been under-funded. The picture becomes clearer when federal dollars spent per patient on research are compared with other diseases, many of which affect fewer people.