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Study shows more than 75,000 people in Arizona have epilepsy

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

PHOENIX — More than 75,000 people who live in Arizona have epilepsy, a study from the Centers for Disease Control said.

The study said 77,000 Arizonans had been diagnosed with the disease as of 2015 and the number of people who have the disease is on the rise.

Dr. Joseph Sirven, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, said he was unsure what had caused the nationwide increase. He theorized that an increase in population could be the reason more cases were found.

Epilepsy, depending on its severity, can deeply affect someone’s quality of life. Sirven said, if an Arizonan has an episode of impaired consciousness, they cannot drive for three months afterward. If seizures continue, that may effectively mean someone will never drive again.

“If you can’t drive, you can’t work, you can’t go to school, you have to rely on mass transportation,” he said. “Uber and Lyft have helped, but that can be expensive pretty quickly.

“The second thing is, if it happens in the wrong time, wrong place, there could be injury. There can be problems with memory afterwards. People have lost their jobs over this issue.”

Sirven said people with epilepsy can be hit by a seizure at any time, but they can be affected in other ways.

“The typical symptoms are basically seizures – abnormal electrical discharges in the brain,” he said. “The most obvious are the ones where people show up in the emergency room with full-blown convulsions.

“However, seizures can also be very subtle. [Some subtle symptoms include] staring or change in language or memory. And, [the subtle seizures] last about a minute to a minute and a half or so.”

There is hope, however. Sirven said there are 28 medications that treat epilepsy and there are medical devices doctors can use.

One is a brain pacemaker that helps regulate the brain’s electrical signals. Another involves brain surgery.

Sirven said even a so-called keto diet – a modified version of the Atkins diet – has been shown to help.

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