A “seizure” can be defined as a sudden uncontrolled surge of electric activity in the brain. Seizures typically last from 30 seconds to a few minutes. If a seizure lasts more than five minutes, it constitutes an emergency. Prolonged seizure activity is called “status epilepticus."
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has set forth a nice outline of seizure disorders, including epilepsy (referenced below), as follows:
“Epilepsy” is a term that refers to chronic seizures of unknown etiology. Since the 1960s, scientists have recognized that patterns of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected by electroencephalography (EEG), cause epileptic seizures when there is a surge of electrical activity.
Epilepsy is estimated to affect approximately 3 million Americans. It occurs most often in early childhood and in the elderly.
If treatment with medications (there are more than 20 anti-epileptic drugs) isn't successful in controlling seizures, an EEG has been used to locate and surgically remove an epileptic focus, the source of seizure activity in the brain, to treat the seizures. Vagal nerve stimulation is another treatment option in some cases.
With more sophisticated imaging techniques, such as functional MRI (fMRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), along with traditional MRI and PET scans, doctors have been able to more precisely localize “epileptic foci” in the brain.
In addition to epilepsy, certain injuries to the brain, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke (CVA), brain tumors, and infections (e.g., meningitis), may cause “acquired epilepsy” in some patients.
Co-morbid conditions that are seen in patients who have epilepsy may include depression, as well as certain cognitive and behavioral impairments. There has also been research done in “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy” (SUDEP) that suggests a link to cardiac dysfunction.
Since 1995, when the first gene linked to epilepsy was discovered, dozens of other genes associated with epilepsy have been found.
Types and Symptoms of Seizures
Symptoms of a seizure may include temporary confusion. uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, loss of consciousness, and cognitive or emotional symptoms, such as fear, anxiety or an experience of “déjà vu.”
There are mainly two types of seizures … focal and generalized seizures.
A focal seizure (sometimes called a petit-mal seizure) represents a localized burst of electrical activity in just one area of the brain. A loss of consciousness may or may not occur with a focal seizure. More often the symptoms of a focal seizure, rather than loss of consciousness, may include a temporary loss of awareness such as staring into space, failing to respond to questions or to others in your environment, and repetitive movements or activities.
Some focal seizures affect the way you perceive sound, smell, or taste, or cause tingling, dizziness or flashing lights, like a migraine headache.
A generalized seizure (sometimes called a grand-mal seizure) is a seizure that involves a large portion of the brain or the whole brain itself rather than just one small localized area. “Tonic-clonic” seizures can cause a sudden loss of consciousness, with shaking of the whole body, tongue-biting, and loss of bladder or bowel control.
They are the dramatic seizures you read about or see in movies.
Disability Benefits for Seizures (Epilepsy)
To qualify for Social Security disability (SSDI) or long-term disability (LTD) benefits under an employer-provided group disability plan (ERISA), you must have frequent, severe, and disabling symptoms from your epilepsy, despite treatment, to make it impossible for you to perform your job or any suitable job.
Under Section 11.00 Neurological Listings, the Social Security Agency provides that “in epilepsy, regardless of etiology, (the) degree of impairment will be determined according to type, frequency, duration, and sequelae of seizures. At least one detailed description of a typical seizure is required. Such description includes 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. Testimony of persons other than the claimant is essential for description of type and frequency of seizures if professional observation is not available … The(se) criteria can be applied only if the impairment persists despite the fact that the individual is following prescribed antiepileptic treatment …”
Just having a diagnosis of epilepsy or being on medications to treat epilepsy are not enough. What is required by SSDI and ERISA is detailed medical documentation in your medical records of your seizures, usually by a neurologist, and how they interfere with your specific job functions. This is essential in order to qualify for benefits.
Whether for SSDI or ERISA, your disablity lawyer must work closely with your treating physician to get the proper documentation of your specific findings and impairments into the medical records. At Law Med, that's what we do.