By Sara Franklin
Executive Director, Epilepsy Foundation Alabama
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans are at a higher risk of developing epilepsy. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures. There are many types of epilepsy and different kinds of seizures. When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy.
Epilepsy can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or socio-economic status. In Alabama alone, there are more than 54,000 people living with epilepsy. The Veterans Health Administration estimated that the prevalence of veterans with epilepsy under treatment at Veterans Administration (VA) medical facilities was 13.8 per 1,000 in 2015.
Epilepsy usually develops in veterans during, or following, service because they are more likely to have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) – the leading and common form of head trauma in service men and women. TBI happens when a person’s brain is physically injured, usually by sudden force. With military members this injury is usually because of a concussive blast or explosion and, because the damage is internal, there may be no visible head wound.
TBIs can cause a seizure right after the injury happens or even months or years later. Approximately 1 in 10 people will experience an early seizure after TBI. Early diagnosis and treatment are important but, oftentimes, military members tend to under-report mild TBI to avoid removal from combat situations or active duty, so they go undiagnosed.
The Epilepsy Foundation Alabama (epilepsyalabama.org) provides seizure first aid training and resources for veterans and their families affected by epilepsy. The Epilepsy Foundation also offers a pocket size booklet, “Traumatic Brain Injury and Epilepsy Booklet,” designed to educate veterans and their families about the relationship between TBI and epilepsy. In addition, the Epilepsy Centers of Excellence (http://www.epilepsy.va.gov/ecoe.asp), a network of 16 sites funded by the VA, provide comprehensive, high-quality treatment and support to veterans with epilepsy or other seizure disorders.
If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury and think you could be experiencing seizures, you are encouraged to see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. For more information, visit the Epilepsy Foundation Alabama at epilepsyalabama.org
Thank you to all of Alabama’s service members.