Whether or not someone close to you has been diagnosed with epilepsy, there are some basic facts you need to know:
1. Seizures are not contagious
Seizures, if you have seen one first hand you know they are very frightening to watch. But you may find comfort in the fact that you cannot contract seizures or epilepsy simply by coming into contact with or assisting someone having a seizure. Seizures are not contagious.
2. Seizures can happen at any age
Many people think only kids can have seizures. Yet epilepsy can and is diagnosed infants all the way up to seniors. There are a wide variety of causes of epilepsy and seizures. When young children experience a sudden high fever or a severe head injury they may be more likely to experience a seizure. Whereas should a senior experience a stroke, a fall or a neurodegenerative disease such as dementia they may be more likely to also experience a seizure. For everyone in between the causes run the gamut from head injury, fever, fall, brain disorder, no known cause, and the list goes on and on.
3. Epilepsy does not discriminate
Epilepsy also does not only focus on one socioeconomic population. Those diagnosed and living with epilepsy are rich and poor, educated and uneducated, in developed countries and underdeveloped countries. For example there are Olympiads such as Chanda Gunn and Dai Greene who are living with epilepsy. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, is living with epilepsy. Meanwhile, more than 70% of the cases are in underdeveloped countries and the people there are struggling with limited treatment and an abundance of myths.
4. Not all seizures are convulsions
Not every seizure looks like the one you see on TV. The one you are likely most familiar with, mainly because it is the easiest to spot, is a tonic clonic (grand mal) characterized by complete unconsciousness, jerking and stiffening, and sometimes the person turns slightly blue due to lack of oxygen.
Another one you may be aware of is an absence seizure. Often the person will just stop mid conversation or activity and stare off into space. There are approximately 40 other types of seizures, many of which are extremely difficult to identify.
5. You can have more than one type
It is true that many people diagnosed with epilepsy experience more than one type of seizure. When describing seizure experiences to your doctor it is really important to discuss anything out of the ordinary. You may find something you thought was just déjà vu or jamais vu is really a seizure.
6. Seizures are not caused by demons
Epilepsy is not caused by demons, evil spirits or witchcraft. It is a physical condition that needs to be treated with medication or surgical treatment in order to manage seizure activity.
7. You cannot swallow your tongue during a seizure
Your tounge is attached to your mouth by a series of muscles. You cannot swallow your tongue during a seizure.
Please, I beg you, do not put your (less than clean) wallet in the mouth of a person having a seizure. It is gross and it doesn’t do anything to help.
8. People with epilepsy can drive
Independence is a major issue for adults living with epilepsy. When your epilepsy is uncontrolled, driving can place you, your passengers and others on the road in danger. However, if your seizures have been controlled for the length of time required by your state, driving can offer freedom, help you gain financial independence, and the make it easier to have a social life. More
9. People with epilepsy can marry and have children
If you are lucky enough to find someone who loves you the way you love them, there is no reason why you should not be able to marry the person — epilepsy or not.
Having children is a bit more complicated when it comes to epilepsy but it can be done. The key is to talk to your doctor before you even become pregnant.
Be sure you are on a medication that is best for you. You will also want to ask about folic acid and the benefits of taking it before you even become pregnant. And be sure you are on a birth control method that will work with your medication.
But it is true, I am living proof that you can have epilepsy and have a marriage and a family. And a happy one at that.
10. Epilepsy is NOT rare
According to the World Health Organization, Epilepsy is one of the most prevalent neurological disorders. The condition can be effectively prevented and treated at an affordable cost.
However in many underdeveloped countries diagnosis and treatment is not available. It is the most common serious brain disorder worldwide with no age, racial, social class, national nor geographic boundaries.
11. Epilepsy can be deadly
Alicia Goldman, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine recently presented research on Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).
In her presentation she noted the incidence of SUDEP is grossly underestimated and could affect a range of 5% to 18% people with epilepsy. When applied worldwide, we are looking at a range of 3,250,000 to 11,700,000 deaths.