IBE/Amir Ghaiyoumi
Epilepsy accounts for a significant proportion of the world’s disease burden, affecting around 50 million people worldwide.
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    Epilepsy is the most common chronic brain disease and affects people of all ages. More than 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy; nearly 80% of them live in low- and middle-income countries.

    An estimated 70% of people with epilepsy could be seizure free if properly diagnosed and treated. However, about three quarters of people with epilepsy in low-income countries do not get the treatment they need, and this rises to 90% in some countries. In many such countries, many health professionals do not have the training to recognize, diagnose and treat epilepsy. In most resource-poor countries, antiseizure medicines are not available.

    People with epilepsy and their families frequently suffer from stigma and discrimination. In many parts of the world the true nature of epilepsy has also long been distorted by myths, fear and mistaken notions about the disorder.

    WHO is working with ministries of health and partners to improve access to treatment for epilepsy.


    Symptoms and treatment

    Epilepsy is not contagious and is characterized by seizures, which occur because of temporary excessive electric activity in the brain. During seizures, people may lose consciousness or awareness, control of bowel or bladder function, they may not be able to hear or see properly, and their movements may become disturbed. The loss of movement control and sensation can cause injuries from falls.

    A diagnosis of epilepsy is made by a health professional if there is medical history of at least two seizures. Often this is further confirmed by electroencephalography (EEG), a painless technological method to record and study the electrical activity of the brain.  

    Treatment for epilepsy can be very effective. With antiseizure medicines, up to 70% of people living with epilepsy could become seizure free. After 2 years of taking medicines without any seizures, a health professional may advise stopping the medicines. Where medicines are not helpful in relieving the condition, some types of surgery can be beneficial. Since people with epilepsy have higher occurrence of psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, psychosocial help is also useful. 

    WHO response

    Previous WHO collaborative programmes on epilepsy have shown that integrating epilepsy care in primary health care can significantly reduce the epilepsy treatment gap. Based on the evidence-based methods of the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), WHO supports the training of primary care, non-specialist health care providers to diagnose, treat and follow up people with epilepsy. The WHO Programme on Reducing the Epilepsy Treatment Gap combined several innovative strategies to support access and care to services for people with epilepsy, thereby reducing the epilepsy treatment gap. The Programme was implemented in four countries – Ghana, Mozambique, Myanmar and Viet Nam.

    WHO published Improving the lives of people with epilepsy: a technical brief, which sets out the actions required to deliver an integrated approach to epilepsy care and treatment. This better meets the multifaceted needs of people with epilepsy.


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