Epilepsy is a significant health problem. Ten percent of people living a normal lifespan will experience at least one epileptic seizure and one third will develop a chronic epileptic condition. At any given time, 0.5% to 1% of the world's population has active epilepsy, amounting to over 40 million people. A World Health Organization-sponsored study determined that epilepsy accounts for 1% of the global burden of disease, measured as disability-adjusted life years equivalent to the global burden of lung cancer in men and to breast cancer in women. Disability-adjusted life years measure years of productivity lost as a result of disability or death, which is relatively high for epilepsy because this condition often begins in childhood. The cost of epilepsy in the United States has been estimated at $12.5 billion/year, and 80% of this cost is borne by the 30% of patients whose seizures are not controlled.
The cost of uncontrolled epileptic seizures to society, and to individuals with epilepsy and their families, is measured not only in economic terms, but also in terms of human suffering. In this month's first article, Michael R. Sperling, MD, who has authored seminal papers on consequences of epilepsy, provides evidence that epilepsy is not a benign disorder; that early control of epileptic seizures is important to avoid irreversible disability due to the development of psychological and social disturbances and progressive cerebral dysfunction, as well as epilepsy-related death. The burden imposed on society and on individuals by uncontrolled epileptic seizures is all the more tragic because many suffer needlessly. For a significant number of adults who have had recurrent seizures since infancy, childhood, or adolescence, more aggressive early intervention might have rescued them from a lifetime of disability. Consequently, the goal of therapy today should be no seizures and no side effects, as soon as possible.