Recognizing November as Epilepsy Awareness Month

Recognizing November as Epilepsy Awareness Month

Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that causes seizures, and it affects more than 3 million people in the United States. Each November, National Epilepsy Awareness Month aims to raise awareness of the condition and the availability of resources to fight it.

Epilepsy has long been misunderstood. The great Roman medical practitioner Hippocrates shunned the notion that it was a supernatural phenomenon and argued that it derived from the brain and had genetic aspects. No one believed him until well into the 17th century. The stigma associated with epilepsy, however, continues to this day. Many countries still believe it is a sign of spiritual possession and, until 1980, individuals suffering from epilepsy were not allowed to marry in the United States!

One in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime. Diagnosis is vital to alleviate seizures and their impact, improve quality of life and even prevent death. There are also many neurological diseases recently discovered to be highly associated with epilepsy. Individuals with autism are almost 15-20% more likely to have epilepsy; persons with Alzheimer’s have a 10-13% higher association; and those with multiple sclerosis have a 2-3% association with epilepsy.


Treatment options

In the past few decades, different seizure medications have been used to treat epilepsy. Newer options, however, such as Cannabidiol and new device therapy (vagus nerve stimulation, deep brain stimulation, and responsive neurostimulation system) and surgical techniques have come into effect in recent years. Medication compliance, avoiding sleep deprivation, and avoiding excessive video games and cartoons can play an important role in seizure control and preventing sudden unexplained death in epilepsy patients (SUDEP).


Why wear purple?

To help prevent seizures, individuals need to be able to relax the brain and nervous system. Linalool, the terpene most prominent in lavender, has that effect, which is why lavender (or purple) is the official color of epilepsy. Earlier this month, Marshall Neuroscience and the Epilepsy Foundation of West Virginia wore purple shirts to support the more than 21,500 people in West Virginia who have epilepsy and live with seizures.

Additional information about epilepsy is available at epilepsy.com. You can also locally support epilepsy by participating in the next Walk to End Epilepsy, which is scheduled for April 26, 2020, at Ritter Park.


This opinion-editorial was originally published in The Herald-Dispatch on Nov. 24, 2019.

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Samrina Hanif, MD

Dr. Hanif is a board-certified, fellowship-trained neurologist and an assistant professor of neurology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. She specializes in caring for patients with epilepsy.