Addressing the burden of epilepsy: Many unmet needs

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Abstract

Epilepsy is a heterogeneous clinical condition characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures, their causes and complications. The incidence, prevalence and mortality of epilepsy vary with age, place and time contributing to a variable extent to the burden of the disease. Diagnostic misclassification may have strong impact on personal and societal reflections of the disease in light of its clinical manifestations and the need for chronic treatment. Epilepsy accounts for a significant proportion of the world's disease burden ranking fourth after tension-type headache, migraine and Alzheimer disease. Among neurological diseases, it accounts for the highest disability-adjusted life year rates both in men and in women. Although epilepsy is self-remitting in up to 50% of cases, variable long-term prognostic patterns can be identified based on the response to the available treatments. Epilepsy carries an overall increased risk of premature mortality with variable estimates across countries. Premature mortality predominates in patients aged less than 50 years, with epilepsies due to structural/metabolic conditions, with generalized tonic-clonic seizures, and seizures not remitting under treatment. Among deaths directly attributable to epilepsy or seizures, included are sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), status epilepticus, accidents, drowning, unintentional injuries, and suicide. Somatic and psychiatric disorders prevail in patients with epilepsy than in people without epilepsy. Asthma, migraine and cerebral tumors tend to occur more frequently in younger adults while cardiovascular disorders, stroke, dementia and meningioma predominate in the elderly. As being a fairly common clinical condition affecting all ages and requiring long-term (sometimes lifelong) treatment, epilepsy carries high health care costs for the society. Direct costs peak in the first year after diagnosis and then vary according to the severity of the disease, the response to treatment, and the presence of comorbidity. Although in several countries the costs of epilepsy are met by the national health systems, out-of-pocket costs may be a relevant fraction of the overall costs, especially in countries where the public management of health care is suboptimal or non-existent. Epilepsy strongly affects patients' independence, psychological health and emotional adjustment. Epilepsy impairs all aspects of health-related quality of life. Awareness and attitudes of the public about epilepsy may significantly affect the burden of the disease. All these factors add to the burden of the disease. However, many of the factors implicated in the onset of epilepsy, its course and treatment can be favorably addressed with appropriate strategic plans. More research is needed to investigate and manage the medical and psychosocial implications of epilepsy.

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