Epilepsy and Disability

Did you know that about 1 in every 100 people in the US have the disorder known as epilepsy? That’s approximately 3 million people in our country alone. 50 million people worldwide have been diagnosed. The primary symptom of epilepsy is the experience of at least two seizures for unknown reasons. Having only one unprovoked seizure does not necessarily mean you have epilepsy. It is common for those that do have it to need treatment such as medication and surgery to keep the appearance of even mild seizures to a minimum.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders ranging from severe, life-threatening and disabling, to ones that are much more benign. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.

Causes of Epilepsy

The exact cause of epilepsy in about half of those who have it is unknown. With others, it usually runs in the family and can be easily traced back to another relative who has passed it down. There are also some cases where epilepsy is experienced after serious head trauma, a heart attack, a stroke or the onset of dementia. Diseases like meningitis and AIDS and some developmental disorders like autism and Down syndrome can bring on the condition as well.

Epilepsy has many possible causes and there are several types of seizures. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity—from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development—can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, changes in important features of brain cells called channels, or some combination of these and other factors. Having a single seizure as the result of a high fever (called febrile seizure) or head injury does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. A measurement of electrical activity in the brain and brain scans such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are common diagnostic tests for epilepsy.

Types of Epilepsy

There are several different types of seizures an epilepsy patient can have, which are usually classified as either partial or generalized. Seizures are caused by abnormal brain activity and can therefore result in confusion, staring spells, uncontrollable jerking movements in the limbs or loss of consciousness. People usually always have the same type of seizure each time, so they are easily classifiable:

  • Simple partial seizures will change the victim’s emotions and physical senses and often bring about jerking movements in the limbs and vertigo. Loss of consciousness is not a symptom of this type.
  • Complex partial seizures result in a loss of awareness and unintentional movements of the body, including staring spells, twitching, chewing, hand rubbing, swallowing and walking around in circles.
  • Absence seizures cause staring spells and more subtle body movements, along with a momentary loss of consciousness.
  • Myoclonic seizures usually only result in jerks or twitches in the limbs.
  • Atonic seizures are also known as drop attacks and can cause the patient to lose normal muscle activity, which could result in the person suddenly collapsing.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures are the most intense of seizures, causing loss of consciousness, loss of bladder control and a stiffening of the body.

Impairment Due to Epilepsy

In epilepsy, regardless of etiology, degree of impairment will be determined according to type, frequency, duration, and sequelae of seizures. At least one detailed description of a typical seizure should be produced. Such description may include the presence or absence of aura, tongue bites, sphincter control, injuries associated with the attack, and postictal phenomena. The reporting physician should indicate the extent to which description of seizures reflects his own observations and the source of ancillary information. Testimonial evidence of persons other than the claimant may prove essential for description of type and frequency of seizures if professional observation is not available.

Epilepsy and Disability

Due to how unpredictable the appearance of seizures can be, it is difficult for those with epilepsy to keep a normal job. As such, if you or a loved one has epilepsy, you may be eligible for Long Term Disability insurance benefits or disability benefits from Social Security.

However, it is common for epilepsy claims to be denied due to the fact that the disorder may not always be a long-term condition. Disability insurance companies often deny LTD claims on the grounds that an epilepsy disorder is not severe enough as to be disabling. Yet, each epilepsy case is evaluated on its own merits. Recurring seizures of any type can be a disabling disease and you should discuss your condition with an experienced disability attorney. If you would like to pursue this type of claim, call experienced disability lawyer Nick Ortiz at 850-308-7833 for a free consultation to determine whether you are eligible for the benefits you deserve.