Op-Ed: Epilepsy is Less Scary When You Know the Facts, Here’s a Few

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding epilepsy which lead to ignorance and fear. 

Fear and trepidation are expected when there is limited awareness about something, especially medical conditions.

Epilepsy is no exception.

Here are some facts and common myths about epilepsy:

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition or disorder that causes recurring, unprovoked seizures. Electrical charges are responsible for normal brain activity. Seizures are the results of excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells which will result in involuntary movements of the body. 

How many people have epilepsy?

I can guarantee if you don’t know someone personally who has epilepsy, someone you know knows someone who has it. It affects more than 50 million people worldwide making it one of the most common neurological diseases along with Alzheimer’s, dementia, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. 

So what do I do if someone is having a seizure?

If a person has a seizure and has fallen, it’s best to turn them on their side, put something soft under their head (a sweater, purse, backpack, or rest their head on your lap) and just wait it out. Unfortunately, that’s all you can do. If the seizure persists for longer than a couple of minutes, call 9-1-1. 

Are there different kinds of seizures?

Yes. The symptoms of a seizure vary depending on the part of the brain that has abnormal current. Some of the different kinds of seizures include:

Grand mal seizures

These are the seizures you typically think of and the ones you would see on a medical drama like Grey’s Anatomy or The Resident. The abnormal current invades the entire brain, and the patient will fall to the ground, become stiff and shake all over. 

Simple Partial Seizure

Patients are aware during these and will have unusual sensations or jerking of limbs. 

Complex Partial Seizure

Partial seizures begin in one part of the brain and then spread to other areas. Many patients experience an “aura” that’s been described as a rising sensation in the stomach similar to riding a roller coaster. As the seizure spreads, there may be minor shaking, muscle stiffening, or an altered state of awareness. 

Absence Seizures

Also known as “petit mal” seizures, can cause rapid blinking or staring into space for a few seconds. This is not the same as ‘zoning out’. An absence seizure is a complete loss of consciousness with no ability to communicate or ‘snap out of it’. 

Some Quick Myths to Debunk

Myth #1: You can swallow your tongue when you have a seizure.

Fact: It is impossible to swallow your tongue. 

Myth #2: (This is a big one) You should put something in a person’s mouth to prevent them from choking.

Fact: Do not put anything in a person’s mouth who is having a seizure. It can do much more harm than good.

Myth #3: People with epilepsy are mentally ill or emotionally unstable. 

Fact: Epilepsy is the umbrella term used to cover the different types of seizures and epileptic disorders. It’s a functional physical problem, not a mental one and has many unidenitfiable causes. 

Myth #4: Video games and strobe lights cause seizures.

Fact: While some people with epilepsy have sensitivity to flashing lights that would trigger a seizure, it only affects about 3% of patients. It’s more common in children (up to 5%).

Myth #5: Women with epilepsy can’t or shouldn’t get pregnant.

Fact: Epilepsy doesn’t usually affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant, but medication can have an effect on the child’s development. For women taking anti-epileptic medication, the risk of birth defects is much higher than that of someone not taking any medications. Women with epilepsy who want to have children should work closely with their neurologist and Ob/Gyn to monitor and mitigate the risks.

It’s easy to be frightened or scared by something you don’t understand and there’s limited awareness about epilepsy which doesn’t help those who live with it every day. There’s so much more to be said, but I’ll leave this here for now. 

Thankfully, Google is free and there are thousands of resources that provide accurate information for patients, families, and people in general who want to learn more.


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