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Many Adults With Epilepsy Not Treated

Burden of Disorder Has Great Impact on Quality of Life, Study Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Epilepsy Quality of Life

Oct. 31, 2007 -- More than a third of adults living with epilepsy reported being too physically disabled to hold a job in a new survey, and one in four said they did not take medication even though they had active seizures.

Based on the results, researchers with the CDC and the UCLA School of Public Health estimated that about 1% of Californians, or 300,000 residents, have a history of epilepsy and 0.7%, or 182,000, have active seizures or take medicine to control seizures.

People with epilepsy had more physical and mental health problems than people without the disorder.

The study, published in the October issue of the journal Epilepsia, was conducted to better understand the burdens of adults living with epilepsy in the community, CDC public health advisor and study co-author Rosemarie Kobau, MPH, tells WebMD.

"We confirmed that the burden of impaired quality of life is substantial, as is the burden of unemployment and poverty," Kobau says. "It is clear that adults with epilepsy need better access to specialized medical care to control seizures and the effects of living with seizures."

Living With Epilepsy

The findings were derived from data collected in the 2003 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation’s largest state health surveys and one of the most comprehensive.

Among the adults with epilepsy, 36% of those with active epilepsy reported being physically disabled or unable to work, compared with 5% of the population at large. Twenty-two percent of people who were ever told they had epilepsy rated their overall health as poor, compared with 4.5% of the general population.

And 45% of those ever told they had epilepsy reported having annual household incomes of less than $25,000, compared with 29% of the general population.

The researchers also found a greater percentage of people with a history of epilepsy or who were having active seizures to be active smokers and to never walk for transportation or exercise.

Adults with recent seizures reported between nine and 12 days during the previous month of impaired physical or mental health, or days when their daily activities were limited, compared with only two to four days among people without the disorder.

Many Patients Aren’t Treated

Among people who reported still having seizures, 26% also said they took no medications to control them.

CDC epidemiologist David J. Thurman, MD, says it is clear from the finding that a substantial minority of adults with epilepsy are not getting optimal or even minimal care.

"We think that two-thirds of patients can be completely controlled, meaning no seizures at all, with appropriate medications and that the remaining one-third could have the frequency of their seizures greatly reduced," he tells WebMD.

While most adults with active epilepsy reported having health insurance and having access to regular care, Thurman says the responses may not reflect the true picture of what is going on.

"Our concern is that access issues may keep many people from getting optimal care with appropriate medications," he says. "People who receive care only from hospital emergency departments are likely to run out of medication from time to time. This is not optimal care."

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