10 things everyone should know about epilepsy
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Many communities still believe epilepsy occurs due to “possession by spirits” and offer worship or even animal sacrifice to treat people with epilepsy. Due to the social stigma attached to it, many families shy away from disclosing if they have someone with epilepsy. Even people who accept epilepsy as a medical disorder do not talk about it often. In order to get rid of the stigma, myths, and taboo surrounding epilepsy, it is important to know about more about the condition.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a condition in which nerve cell activity of the brain is disturbed and the brain sends out abnormal signals through the nerves to different parts of the body. This may produce seizures or abnormal sensations and sometimes, even loss of consciousness. ''
1. Epilepsy is common.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disease with over 50 million epilepsy cases globally. Anyone can have epileptic seizures in their lifetime but incidence rate is high in children below 2 years of age and elders over 65. That’s because children are more prone to birth defects and physical injuries while strokes may cause epileptic conditions in elders.
2. Having a seizure does not mean you have epilepsy.
A seizure is single occurrence when electrical activity of nerve cells in the brain is disturbed or excessive. Seizures are not always related to epilepsy. Sometimes, a high fever, a head injury, an infection of the brain, or even a lack of adequate oxygen supply to the brain may cause an episode of seizure. A sudden fall in blood glucose levels may also cause a seizure.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder leading to recurring seizures. It is diagnosed when a person has at least two or more unprovoked seizures with a gap of at least 24 hours between them.
3. Symptoms of epilepsy are not the same for everyone.
Symptoms of epilepsy vary depending on the type of seizures. People generally tend to lose consciousness and are not able to recognize during or after an epileptic seizure. From staring blankly for a few moments to uncontrollable twitching, symptoms of epilepsy include repetitive movements, confusion, convulsions (jerking, shaking and pulling movements) etc. However, a person may also wander around, seem vacant or confused during the epileptic episode. A person may have similar pattern of symptoms during every episode.
4. Know your medical history.
Although the exact cause of epilepsy is not clear genes play a major role behind it. Hence, it becomes vital to know your family history and inform the doctor about it. For example, there are some types of epilepsy which run in families and are characterized by the kind of seizure experience one has or region of brain it affects.
Although scientists associate certain genes with some types of epilepsy, genes may not be directly causing the seizures. They indirectly influence the person making them more sensitive to environmental conditions that trigger seizures. Therefore, there is an increased risk of having seizures if there is a history of epilepsy in the family.
5. Be aware of risk factors.
Risk of epilepsy goes up in case of head injuries, concussions, falling over the head during physical activities like cycling, skiing, riding bike or meeting with an accident on the road.
People with epilepsy are more vulnerable to fluctuations in blood pressure, hitting their head on nearby objects during seizure, meeting with car accident, drowning during swimming, suffering from emotional difficulties like anxiety and depression, sleeplessness, etc.
Majority of women with epilepsy give birth to healthy babies but the chances of birth defects in babies are slightly higher than women who don’t have epilepsy.
6. People with epilepsy face multiple challenges.
Apart from the discrimination people with epilepsy face, epilepsy is responsible for other multiple complications. These range from psychological challenges like having suicidal thoughts and exhibiting suicidal behavior to facing problems while getting a driving license.
Though most women with epilepsy can have healthy babies, they are given anti- epileptic medications that may increase the risk of birth defects in the baby. Therefore, they need close monitoring during pregnancy.
Although the incidence of death due to epilepsy is extremely low, it may lead to death. However, most people are able to manage their condition using available treatments like taking anti-epileptic medicines, surgery, device implants and diet. In fact, Ketogenic diet has proved to reduce seizures in people with epilepsy especially children.
7. Epilepsy doesn’t stay forever.
According to studies, about 6 out of 10 people with epilepsy have become seizure free with proper treatment within a few years. Most of them will not have seizures anymore though some may have occasional seizures or experience side effects of epileptic medications.
8. Epilepsy medicines do not last lifetime.
If a person has been seizure-free for two to five years, the doctor may reduce the medicine dosage and allow him to discontinue the medications after a while keeping in mind the overall health of the person.
In case of children, some seizures stop on their own after a certain age and are most likely to not reoccur hence doctor may free them of their medication course.
9. One can be free of epilepsy.
Although some may have to take daily medications depending on the severity of their seizure, more than 50 out of 100 children outgrow epilepsy with time.
10. Epilepsy doesn’t make you any different.
People with epilepsy continue to carry out their daily chores and lead a normal life. However, they need to take care of not opting for jobs that involve risks of any head injuries. Also, they need to always inform somebody of the medical condition.