November is epilepsy awareness month. It’s important that everyone understands the condition that is epilepsy, who it affects, what triggers a seizure and what to do to help someone who is having a seizure. Below are some of the most common epilepsy questions
What is epilepsy?
Within our brain, there’s constant electrical activity of cells sending messages to each other. A seizure is the result of a sudden burst of electrical energy which is too intense for the body to cope with, making the body react in abnormal ways. Seizure symptoms can present themselves in many different forms and the type of seizure that someone has can depend upon which part of the brain is being affected due to the surge of energy.
Who is affected by epilepsy?
Unfortunately, it’s possible for epilepsy to strike anyone at any time, and pinpointing the cause of it can be very difficult indeed. Sometimes there’s a clear cause, such as if the person has suffered a stroke, they’ve had a brain infection (for example, meningitis) or experienced a severe head injury. However, around half of all people with epilepsy have no clear cause of their condition. Epilepsy can strike at any age and whilst some may be able to grow out of the condition, many will be epileptic for life.
Almost 1 in every 100 people in the UK are affected by epilepsy, meaning that over 600,000 people in the UK are diagnosed as epileptic. Though the reality is that this is likely to be a much higher number due to the diagnosis of epilepsy being a lengthy and difficult process for many.
What triggers an epileptic seizure?
There are many, many different factors which can either trigger or contribute to a person having a seizure. The most well-known factor is flashing lights, yet this only affects around 13% of all epileptic people. Low blood sugar levels, menstruation or a sudden shock to the body are also common seizure triggers which people don’t often realise. Other factors can be more simple, such as stress or exhaustion, but, in today’s world, this can be a tricky factor to avoid. Of course, what triggers a seizure very much depends on what type of epilepsy the person has, as well as the individual person themselves.
How can epileptic seizures be controlled?
The predominant treatment for epilepsy is various types of epileptic medication, known as antiepileptic drugs. Whilst these can help to reduce the number of seizures, they can’t cure epilepsy. Currently, there is no definite cure for epilepsy; There are only treatments which might help reduce/stop the physical seizures. However, each treatment carries severe side effects which can, in fact, be worse than the actual seizures themselves. In severe epilepsy cases, brain surgery might be necessary to gain some control of the seizures, but again this carries numerous risks.
So what do you do if you see someone having a seizure? Take ACTION!
A …Assess– assess the situation, are they in any danger of injuring themselves?
C … Cushion– cushion the person’s head from further harm
T …Time– check the time, if the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes then call 999
I …Identity– look for a medical bracelet or ID card
O …Over– once the seizure is over, turn the person onto their side
N …Never– never ever restrain the person or put something in their mouth
by Meryl Hanmer