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Epilepsy: Mysterious and Sometimes Misunderstood

People are considered to have the condition if they suffer two unexplained seizures. America's top judge recently had his second one in 14 years. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Epilepsy is a disorder where bursts of electrical activity in the brain result in seizures. A seizure can involve part or all of the brain. It can be minor and a few seconds long or severe and last for several minutes.

Victims can shake uncontrollably and have brief periods where they do not wake up. Many people misunderstand epilepsy. They may see it as a mental disability or even fear it as a sign of evil.

The World Health Organization says more than fifty million people have epilepsy. At least half of all cases develop in children and teenagers.

The Epilepsy Foundation in the United States says ten percent of adults will have a seizure sometime during their life. In most cases the cause is unknown.

On July thirtieth, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, had a seizure and fell near his summer home in Maine. A Supreme Court spokeswoman said neurological tests found no cause for concern. She said the fifty-two-year-old chief justice fully recovered from what doctors called a benign idiopathic seizure.

Benign and idiopathic mean there was no evidence of harm and no identifiable cause, like a growth or stroke.

But Mister Roberts had a similar event fourteen years ago. Experts say a person who has two or more unexplained seizures is considered to have epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Foundation says more than three million Americans, or one percent, are treated for the condition. Anti-seizure medicines are the most common treatment. But side effects can include sleepiness and difficulty thinking clearly.

Some doctors advise a special diet called a ketogenic diet to help control seizures. Experts warn, though, that this high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet requires close medical supervision and is not for everyone.

Doctors may also try to control epilepsy through brain operations.

To help a person during a seizure, stay calm and try to time how long it lasts. Clear the area of any objects that could injure the person and loosen anything around the neck that could restrict breathing.

Turn the person gently onto one side to keep airways open. Put something flat and soft under the person's head. But do not try to put anything in the person's mouth.

You may have heard it said that people can swallow their tongue during a seizure. Not true, says the Epilepsy Foundation. In fact, it says trying to hold the tongue down could damage the teeth or jaw.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.