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Epilepsy: What is the neurological disorder and how many people does it affect?

Coroner’s report confirms Disney Channel actor Cameron Boyce’s death was linked to epilepsy

Katie O'Malley,Sabrina Barr
Wednesday 31 July 2019 09:35 BST
Cameron Boyce attends the 2019 Radio Disney Music Awards at CBS Studios - Radford on June 16, 2019 in Studio City, California.
Cameron Boyce attends the 2019 Radio Disney Music Awards at CBS Studios - Radford on June 16, 2019 in Studio City, California. (Getty Images)

As one of the most common neurological disorders in the world, epilepsy affects approximately 50 million people across the globe.

Despite its prevalence, there may be a lot of information you don't know about the condition, such as possible causes of it and how it can be diagnosed.

On 6 July, 20-year-old Disney Channel actor Cameron Boyce died at his home in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, a report from the Los Angeles Country Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed that Boyce’s death was linked to his epilepsy.

The report, which called the actor's death a “sudden unexpected death from epilepsy”, was consistent with his family’s earlier statement that linked his death to the ongoing medical condition.

Earlier this month, Boyce's family told People magazine that the 20-year-old’s "tragic passing was due to a seizure as a result of an ongoing medical condition, and that condition was epilepsy”.

Here's everything you need to know about epilepsy and how many people it affects:

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological, life-long condition which affects the brain.

It's the fourth most common neurological disorder, the Epilepsy Foundation states, and affects people of all ages.

When an individual has epilepsy, they may be prone to experiencing frequent, unpredictable seizures.

These seizures happen when a sudden burst of electrical activity occurs in the brain, Epilepsy Action outlines.

While electrical activity is always happening in the brain, an unexpected burst can temporarily cause the brain to stop working as it should.

What are the different types of epileptic seizures?

There are several different kinds of epileptic seizures, Epilepsy Action outlines.

These include the following:

  • Focal seizures
  • Tonic-clonic seizures
  • Absence seizures
  • Myoclonic seizures
  • Tonic seizures
  • Atonic seizures

For more information on how various epileptic seizures differ, click here.

How many people does it affect?

Epilepsy affects one in 100 people in the UK, Epilepsy Action states.

Approximately 87 people in the country are diagnosed with the condition every day.

According to the Epilepsy Society, one in 20 people are likely to have a one-off epileptic seizure at some point in their lifetime.

However, this does not necessarily mean that they have epilepsy.

While epilepsy can develop at any age, it tends to be more common in young children or older people, the Epilepsy Foundation outlines.

What causes epilepsy?

While doctors are unable to pinpoint what causes epilepsy in more than half of cases, there are several possible causes of the neurological condition, Epilepsy Action explains.

This causes include experiencing a stroke, a previous brain condition such as meningitis, suffering a head injury and any problems that occurred during childbirth.

How is it diagnosed?

If you experience a seizure, your GP is likely to refer you to a specialist, the NHS explains.

This specialist is likely to be a neurologist, who can assess how your seizure was connected to your brain's activity.

Epilepsy isn't always diagnosed quickly, as other conditions such as migraines and panic attacks can have similar symptoms.

Furthermore, you probably won't be diagnosed with epilepsy unless you've experienced more than one seizure, as some people who experience one epileptic seizure may not necessarily have the long-term condition.

The tests carried out to determine whether or not you have epilepsy may include an electroencephalogram, during which small sensors are attached to your scalp, and a brain scan.

How is it treated?

People with epilepsy are prescribed specific medicines from their doctor, Epilepsy Action states.

While the medicines, which are sometimes called anti-epileptic drugs, doesn't cure the condition, it may reduce the number of seizures you experience.

If anti-epileptic drugs don't work, then doctors may suggest undergoing brain surgery or a type of surgery called vagus nerve stimulation.

When vagus nerve stimulation is conducted, mild pulses of electrical energy are sent to the brain through the vagus nerve, the Epilepsy Foundation states. This process prevents seizures.

What is Purple Day?

Purple Day, which falls on the same date every year, is a day which aims to raise awareness of epilepsy on a global scale and to break down any taboos surrounding the topic.

The day was created by Cassidy Megan, a nine-year-old Canadian girl with epilepsy.

The first Purple Day event was held in 2008, with the help of the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia.

On the day, people are encouraged to wear purple clothing to show their support.

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The colour purple is commonly associated with epilepsy because of the plant lavender's ability to relax the central nervous system.

Having been diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of seven, Megan wants to people with epilepsy know "that they aren't alone".

Purple Day is now celebrated around the world in more than 100 countries.

For information on what to do if you see someone having an epileptic seizure, click here.

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