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Although Epilepsy is the commonest neurological disorder of the brain, it is the least understood. It knows no geographical, racial or social class boundaries. Anyone can be affected by seizures. Epilepsy affects approximately 7 per 1000 of the general population - around 40 million people globally. The figure for the number of people who may have at least one seizure during their lifetime is even greater - at 5% of the world's population.

Epilepsy is characterized by a tendency to recurrent seizures, often resulting in unconsciousness, sensory disturbance - [including hearing, vision and taste] - and disruptions in mood and mental function. Seizures are the result of sudden, usually brief, excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells ( or neurons). Different parts of the brain can be affected, with distinct clinical repercussions. Epilepsy can have profound physical and psychological consequences, including sudden death, injuries, low self-esteem and mood disorders. Epilepsy responds to treatment in up to 70% of cases - however, due to the ignorance surrounding the disease, as well as social and economic factors, three out of four epilepsy sufferers worldwide receive no treatment at all. In 1990, WHO identified that on average, the cost of the anti-epileptic drug phenobarbitone -- which alone could be used to control seizures in a substantial proportion of those with epilepsy and which is on the WHO list of essential drugs -- could be as low as US$5 per annum per patient.

Fear, misunderstanding and the resulting social stigma surrounding epilepsy can result in social, and sometimes even legal, discrimination against those living with the condition. All over the world the social consequences of epilepsy are often the cause of more suffering than the seizures themselves. Problems are especially felt in the fields of education and employment, personal relationships and, sometimes, even law. These attitudes in turn undermine the treatment of the disease/condition, globally. A fundamental part of ridding the world of the stigma, which has cost people with epilepsy so dear for so long, is to raise public and professional awareness and to change the legislation which reinforces fear and discrimination.

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Social stigma and misunderstanding are to blame for the social isolation and discrimination experienced so often by people with epilepsy. Unemployment and underemployment exist worldwide, but more so for people with epilepsy. In the western world people with epilepsy often have problems in obtaining and keeping a job. Data from the United States, Italy and Germany indicate that, of people with epilepsy of working age, from 40% to 60% are employed (although often in jobs below their potential), 15% to 20% are unemployed and about 20% retire early.

Mythologies surrounding epilepsy exist worldwide, mainly created through the persistence of out-dated superstitions. This has done little to dispel misunderstanding of epilepsy. For example, it was once widely believed that a person with epilepsy is seized by a supernatural force or power. This ancient belief is reflected in the name given to the disorder -- the word "epilepsy" is derived from the Greek word "epilepsia", which means "to take hold of" or "to seize" and is a belief which persists in some traditonal cultures.

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