Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Chief Justice Roberts' Recent "Seizure" -- Opening Up a Much Needed Dialog About Epilepsy

Two days ago, Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court suffered a "seizure" while vacationing at his summer home in Maine. It was later reported that he suffered a similar event in 1993.

I write about this because I sit on the board of the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County and epilepsy afflicts more than 3 million people in the U.S. alone ... quietly ... very very quietly, due to the social stigma still associated with epilepsy.

What is epilepsy? The classic definition is that epilepsy is a condition in which a person has two or more seizures in his or her lifetime without a clear cause. This means that Chief Justice Roberts, in fact, has epilepsy, but it seems to me that the Supreme Court and most observers are taking great pains to avoid using that term due to the social stigma attached to it and due to the lack of knowledge surrounding this extremely common condition. Instead, reporters have taken great pains to use the words "seizures" or "seizure disorders."

In any event, Chief Justice Roberts' recent "seizure" brings much needed national attention to epilepsy and seizures in general -- a surprising 1 in 10 adults will have a seizure during their lifetime. Yet, like Chief Justice Roberts, most lead completely normal and fulfilling lives.

More awareness needs to be done -- more education needs to be done -- and more funding and resources need to be made available for research. The dialog must continue ... and openly.

Below, please find the full text that was made available on the Epilepsy Foundation's web site on Monday.

Chief Justice Taken to Hospital after Seizure

JULY 30, 2007 --- Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., took a fall about 2 p.m. near his summer home in Maine after suffering what doctors describe as a benign idiopathic seizure, according to a Supreme Court press release. A benign idiopathic seizure means “a seizure for which there is no specific identifiable cause such as a scar, growth, stroke, or other obvious cause, “according to Dr. Alan Ettinger, a member of the Epilepsy Foundation’s professional advisory board.

Dr. William Turk, also of the Foundation’s advisory board elaborates, “A seizure results from an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain and there are many possible causes. Head trauma, fever, medication issues and underlying illnesses may all cause seizures. Seizures may also occur absent a known cause, and are referred to as idiopathic. Seizures that continue to recur and are unprovoked are referred to as epilepsy.”

Is it epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition in which a person has two or more seizures without a clear cause. Some people refer to themselves as having a seizure disorder, though technically this is epilepsy. A seizure happens when a brief, strong surge of electrical activity affects either part or all of the brain. For 70 percent of people with seizures and epilepsy, the cause of their condition is unknown.

Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. They can have many symptoms, from convulsions and loss of consciousness. Some symptoms are not always recognized as seizures by the person experiencing them or by health care professionals. These symptoms include blank staring, lip smacking, or jerking movements of arms and legs.

One in 10 adults will have a seizure during their life. One percent of the population – more than 3 million Americans – is treated for epilepsy, most commonly with antiseizure medications.
“Because epilepsy can be a stigmatized condition, some people shy away from using the word – saying instead that they have seizures or a seizure disorder. This is in fact epilepsy. It is important to help eliminate and eradicate myths, fears and stigma, that the correct term – epilepsy – be used,” said Eric Hargis, President and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation.

“The Epilepsy Foundation cannot comment specifically on Chief Justice Roberts’ seizure, which is presumably being evaluated by experts to determine the underlying cause, and appropriate treatment, if any. The Foundation offers its information, resources, advocacy and support services to everyone with epilepsy and seizures, including the Chief Justice and his family as they go through the process of evaluating seizures of unknown origins,” said Steven Sabatini, Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The Epilepsy Foundation is the only national voluntary health organization solely dedicated to the welfare of the more than 3 million people with epilepsy in the U.S. and their caregivers. The Foundation works to ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; to improve how people with epilepsy are perceived, accepted and valued in society; and to promote research for a cure. In addition to programs conducted at the national level, people with epilepsy throughout the United States are served by more than 50 Foundation affiliates.