Social stigma causes those suffering from epilepsy to shy away from society and avoid seeking medical help. Seizures, an effect of epilepsy, are a common neurological disorder but it is often misunderstood by society due to its various causes, signs and complications. Read on to understand this disorder better and there are also tips on helping someone when they experience a seizure attack.
The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that approximately 50 million people worldwide are suffering from epilepsy. Of these, they believe that almost 80% of these reported cases originate from developing countries such as Malaysia.
Experiencing Epilepsy For The First Time
“I was a completely healthy and very active person. At the age of 17, in the midst of preparing for my major exam, I had my first seizure attack while I was asleep. My parents brought me for multiple visits to the doctor who could not seem to find the cause of my seizure. After going for ECG, X-rays, CT scans to MRIs, I was finally diagnosed with ‘Idiopathic Generalized Epilepsy’ or better known in layman terms as ‘unknown cause of seizure’.
I don’t recall what happened that particular day but it changed my life forever. My parents did not want my relatives and friends to know about it due to the social stigma on epilepsy. Today, I am married and leading a completely normal life with the help of my medication.” -Anonymous
What is the Cause of Epilepsy?
Seizures occur when there is an abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which can cause the brain and body to react strangely.
There are various triggers such as a spike in body temperature or low body temperature, abnormalities in electrolytes in our body, blood sugar levels, lack of oxygen and many other reasons. This can happen to anyone. If you have frequent episodes of seizure, then you may have the chronic disorder called epilepsy. Most seizures or epilepsy affecting individuals are idiopathic in nature, that is, the causes are unknown.
10 Questions About Epilepsy Answered
1. Does epilepsy only occur during childhood?
No. Seizures can occur in children during a spike in temperature, which is called a febrile seizure. Febrile fit or seizure is induced by fever. There are seizures that also occur in the elderly and adults caused by cerebral palsy, stroke, traumatic brain injury amongst other reasons. Thus, it is possible for someone to be completely healthy and get their first seizure at a later age.
2. Does putting a metal spoon in the mouth, or holding a key during seizure helpful?
This is absolutely dangerous. One should never put anything in the mouth of the epileptic during a seizure attack. This could potentially lead to serious injuries such choking, cuts or dental injury that would require medical attention. If you must, give the people something soft to clench on including a sponge or a rolled up cloth.
3. Is epilepsy a ‘mental illness”?
No, it isn’t. Epilepsy is a neurological disease that is caused by an abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It has no association with psychological behavior.
4. Epilepsy is caused by spiritual possession, black magic or voodoo.
Epilepsy is a medical condition and not due to black magic, voodoo or spiritual possession. Since ancient times, seizure attacks have been stigmatized by society due to the appearance of the sufferer during an attack. Signs and symptoms of seizure attacks such as eyeballs rolling back, drooling, jerking movements of upper and lower limbs are often mistaken with spiritual possession. Someone who is having a seizure loses the neurological control over the movement of their body due to the abnormal impulse activity in their brain that results from brain injury and so on.
5. Some people will experience auras or warning signs before seizing. Is it true?
Yes, this is true. Some epileptics will experience ‘auras’ such as headaches, nausea, and many more that signal the onset of a seizure. There can also be other preceding factors such as stress, cold, bright flashing lights and lack of sleep. Auras can last for several seconds to minutes before progressing. However, not all auras will progress to a seizure.
Purple Ribbon Day is celebrated every 26th March
to increase awareness of epilepsy worldwide.
6. Can epilepsy kill you?
Seizures can be controlled with medication. There are many types of seizures that are stress- induced, provoked by electrolyte imbalance in the body, blood sugar level and more. If seizures are left untreated, an epileptic’s condition can worsen progressively and be a life threatening condition.
Note: Epileptic medication must be taken strictly as prescribed by your neurologist. If the frequency of the seizure attacks increases despite being on medication, do seek immediate medical attention.
Do seek medical attention quickly if a seizure lasts more than 5 minutes. A seizure that lasts up to 5 minutes is known as ‘Status epilepticus’. It is a medical emergency condition that increases the mortality rate.
7. Are people suffering from epilepsy able to work?
There are epileptics who suffer occasional mild seizures or may even be seizure-free under the control of medications. They can lead normal lives and excel in their careers.
On the other hand, some epileptics may have serious and poorly controlled seizures with other medical conditions affecting their brain such as traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and autism.This condition might not only put limitations on their work performance but also influence their work capabilities. The severity differs from individual to individual.
8. Can epileptics lead normal lives such as getting married and having children?
Yes, they can with simple preventive measures such as strictly complying with their daily antiepileptic medications. Do not miss or skip medications even when you are seizure-free. Always keep a reminder or an alarm to ensure the right dosage is administered. There are some who experience breakthrough seizures despite being on medication due to poor administration of antiepileptic drug.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet, and exercise regularly to ensure your body is strong and fit to cope with the trigger factors. Make sure you have adequate sleep. Or try yoga for a good night’s sleep.
During pregnancy, consult your neurologist on the safest choice of antiepileptic medication. It is best to avoid antiepileptic medication during pregnancy as some of them may cause side effects for the baby. However, stopping medication abruptly may put your life at risk. Always seek professional medical advice before making a decision.
9. Can epilepsy cause depression?
Most of those suffering from epilepsy suffer from depression as a result of public misconception labeling them as mentally unstable. Many seclude themselves from social events, celebrations and family functions due to the fear of losing control should an attack occur.
10. Does your brain receive oxygen during a seizure?
The brain goes through cerebral hypoxia (no oxygen supply to the brain) during a seizure attack that lasts more than 5 minutes or recurrent seizures in the period of 5 minutes without subsiding. This could lead to brain damage and increases the risk of brain death if they are not stabilised quickly.
Credit: Epilepsy Foundation Eastern Pennsylvania (EFEPA)
What to do when someone is having a seizure:
- Stay calm and make sure to carry out the steps below quickly.
- Turn the person immediately on to their side to prevent them from choking and to keep their airways clear enabling them to breathe.
- Cushion their head. Repetitive jerking movements can cause head trauma.
- Do not restrain them to prevent injuries. Holding them down to restrict their involuntary movements may harm them causing injuries such as dislocations of shoulders.
- Remove all sharp objects nearby.
- Loosen their clothing to ease breathing.
- Provide them space and room to breathe.
- Time the seizure. If it lasts for more than 5 minutes, rush them to the nearest hospital immediately.
- Observe them when the seizure subsides which can be monitored from their pulse, blood pressure and heart rate.
- Gently talk to them when they are conscious and ask questions such as “What is the date? Where are we?” to ensure they are coherent and oriented to place, date and time.
Stress is often a silent killer and among the risk factors for epilepsy.
- Consensus Guideline on the Management of Epilepsy 2010