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11 Things We Learned About Epilepsy From a Twitter Chat

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Dr. Richard Besser is ABC News’s Chief Health and Medical editor. He wrote a book called “Tell Me The Truth, Doctor” explaining common medical questions, and he provides analysis and reports for ABC’s platforms. Off-camera, he holds Twitter chats every Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST.

This week’s chat focused on epilepsy, a neurological condition that’s also known as a seizure disorder. It affects 65 million people worldwide, according to The Epilepsy Foundation.

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Can Flashing Lights Cause Seizures Without Epilepsy
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We saw a lot of interesting, important questions pop up throughout Besser’s chat. Below are 13 things we learned about epilepsy, with answers from some of the top epilepsy researchers, organizations and awareness groups:

1. “What is a seizure? What is epilepsy? What are different types of seizures? Anyone on the chat have seizures or epilepsy?”

Answer: “Seizures are a change in body movement or function, sensation, awareness or behavior.” — Center for Disease Control

Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder that can cause seizures or periods of unusual behavior. “Seizure symptoms can vary widely,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs.”

2. “What are the leading causes of seizures?”

Answer: “Seizures can be associated with any injury or toxic effect on the brain.” — Temple Health News

While head trauma can cause seizures, other factors such as fever, poisoning, heart disease, meningitis, and drug abuse can also cause seizures, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. For some people, however, there is no clear cause found for their epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

3. “What is a febrile seizure? How common is it to have more than one? To develop epilepsy following a febrile seizure?”

Answer: “[A febrile seizure is] convulsions brought on by a fever in infants or small children, and one in 25 children will have it.” — Tatiana Kelil, MD

Febrile seizures usually happen on the first day of a child’s fever, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. These seizures are most common for children ranging in age from 6 months old to 5 years old.

4. “Who is most likely to have seizures and/or epilepsy? Is epilepsy on the rise? Any risk factors?”

Answer: “When counting both children and adults, epilepsy affects about 2.9 million people in the U.S.” — CDC

While about 2.9 million people have active epilepsy in the U.S., 5.1 million people in the country have an epilepsy or seizure disorder diagnosis, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s analysis of data from 2013.

5. “What is the natural history of epilepsy? Of an isolated seizure? Do many outgrow it?”

Answer: “Without focusing on etiology, approximately 50% of children will outgrow their epilepsy.” — Beaumont Health System

Children are more likely to outgrow their seizures if they have normal development, a normal EEG, a normal MRI, no other neurological problems and if the seizures are easily controlled with medication, according to Nationwide Children’s. But epilepsy varies among individuals and can range anywhere from a few months to a lifelong condition, according to University of Iowa Health Care.

6. “How do you diagnose a seizure? Epilepsy?”

Answer: “Definite diagnosis by video EEG monitoring.” — Jamaica Hospital Medical Center

Another way to diagnose epilepsy includes, “complete neurological consultation for epilepsy and related conditions,” according to John Hopkins Medicine.

7. “How do you treat a seizure? How do you treat epilepsy? Is surgery ever used for epilepsy?”

Answer: “Medications are the first treatment for epilepsy and seizures.” — Epilepsy Foundation

If a person’s epilepsy doesn’t respond to medicine after two drug trials, the term “drug resistant epilepsy” is used, according to The Epilepsy Foundation. If a person has tried two or more epilepsy medications without a good response, the foundation recommends he or she seeks further help from a specialist. Some people with epilepsy can have surgery if their seizures are caused by structural brain problems, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Additionally, some patients can affect their epilepsy through diet, a common one being a high-fat, low-carb diet called the ketogenic diet.

8. “What are some of the biggest challenges faced by people with epilepsy? What’s the biggest challenge for you?”

Answer: “Driving, working, managing activities, depression, and living with uncertainty.” — University of Pittsburg Medical Center

A person’s risks depend on their type of epilepsy, according to The Epilepsy Society.

9. “Do you have any tips for someone who has had a seizure for the first time? For families?”

Answer: “Tell your doctor exactly what you are concerned about. Ask questions about the seizure.” — Epilepsy Foundation

The U.S. National Library of Medicine also recommends getting a lot of sleep and ensuring one’s home is arranged to help prevent injuries if he or she has a seizure in the future.

10. “Myth-busting time! What are some common myths and misconceptions about seizures and epilepsy?”

Answer: “Myth: Epilepsy is contagious” — Epilepsy Education Everywhere 

No, epilepsy is not contagious.

11.  “Let’s share resources. Where can people find good information on seizures and epilepsy? Support groups?”

Answer: “The Epilepsy Foundation at or” — Keck Medicine of USC 

The Epilepsy Foundation also has forums where you can discuss all aspects of epilepsy.

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Originally published: July 15, 2015
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