Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder characterized by unpredictable seizures that disrupt communication between brain cells. Though it is treatable through surgery, diet, and medications; epilepsy can have a lasting, life-altering impact on those who suffer from it. 25 million Americans will have at least one seizure over the course of their life. That works out to one out of every ten people.
Though epilepsy occurs in men, women, and children across cultures; research shows it is much more prevalent among minority members who are living in poverty. Of the two-and-a-half million people in the United States diagnosed with epilepsy, 300,000 of those are children. And, every year, there are 50,000 more children diagnosed with epilepsy.
For over two-thirds of epilepsy cases in children, the cause is unknown. About one in five cases can be attributed to congenital causes. 4.7 percent of cases show symptoms after some sort of trauma. Other less common causes of epilepsy are due to injections, stroke, or a tumor.
Epilepsy Hits Children Especially Hard
Epilepsy has an especially serious effect on youth 18 years of age and younger. Epilepsy can have an immense impact on brain development if it strikes in early childhood. Also, epileptic attacks can hurt a child’s chances at educational achievement. Children with epilepsy on average are one year behind in their reading level. It is common for children suffering from epilepsy to have stunted adaptive behaviors, visual-spatial function, language, and problem solving.
The teenage years are hard enough without adding epilepsy to the mix. Teenagers are faced with challenges when it comes to dating, working, driving, and attending school when they have epilepsy. In addition, the following contribute to hampering quality of life in children with epilepsy:
- Restrictions on lifestyle
- Medication side effects
- Severe seizures
There Is a Way to Treat Epilepsy
For children, there is the potential for treating epilepsy while minimizing side effects. Unfortunately, there currently is not a system for treating children who suffer from epilepsy in a timely manner. Children you live in rural or underserved areas and ethnic and racial minority groups often lack easy access to specialists who can diagnose epilepsy.
Pediatric neurologists generally treat epilepsy, but there is a shortage of these specialists and even fewer are experts on epilepsy. There are often delays in diagnosis of epilepsy, and it takes even longer to figure out the exact type of epilepsy a child has. It takes additional time to craft a treatment plan and determine how to carry out the plan.
The Children’s Health Act of 2000
In 2000, the Children’s Health Act (CHA) authorized the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) to pursue a variety of initiatives to improve epilepsy care. Through the enactment of the CHA, DHS is authorized to expand epilepsy surveillance activities and implement professional and public education activities. DHS can also enhance research initiatives. This research can hopefully shed light on the two-thirds of epilepsy cases that do not have a known cause.
There are a number of government organizations and agencies that have experience helping people with disabilities. The CHA allows DHS to strengthen relationships with these organizations and agencies to better serve the health needs of epileptics.
In addition, the CHA allows DHS to launch demonstration projects in underserved area. This helps those who are members of the most vulnerable populations to gain access to early epilepsy detection and treatment for children. This improves these children’s chances of living a normal life.
So, though epilepsy is a frightening and common problem among youth, it is a problem that is being attacked. Improved research, cross-department collaboration, and a focus on helping the undeserved are providing the perfect formula to help children with epilepsy.