Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain (central nervous system) resulting in seizures. One seizure is not considered epilepsy. Epilepsy is “more than one seizure”. A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness, behavior brought about by abnormal discharges in neurons in the brain. Normally, neurons carrying electrical impulses form a network allowing communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Neurons “fire” or send electrical impulses toward surrounding cells, stimulating neighboring cells to fire. In people with epilepsy, too many neurons fire at one time, causing an “electrical storm” within the brain. There are more than 20 different types of seizures.
What are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the following symptoms may indicate someone has epilepsy and a medical exam is advised if one or more of these symptoms are present. The symptoms include:
* short periods of blackout or confused memory
* occasional “fainting spells” in which bladder or bowel control is lost, followed by extreme fatigue
* episodes of blank staring in children
* brief periods of no response to questions or instructions
* sudden falls in a child for no apparent reason
* episodes of blinking or chewing at inappropriate times
* a convulsion with or without a fever
How Common is Epilepsy and How Many are Affected?
Epilepsy can strike at any time in one’s life. About 2.5 million people in the USA have epilepsy – including more than 60,000 people in Minnesota. Approximately, 125,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. Anyone can develop epilepsy at any age, but 30% of epilepsy cases are children under 18 years of age and 20% develop epilepsy before the age of 5. Each year, 120,000 children seek medical attention because of a first or newly diagnosed seizure. Of these children, about 37,000 go on to develop recurring seizures or epilepsy.
What are the Different Kinds of Epilepsy?
* Generalized Tonic Clonic (also called Grand Mal)
* Absence (also called petit mal)
* Complex Partial (also called psychomotor or temporal lobe)
* Atonic Seizures (also called drop attacks)
* Myoclonic Seizures
What are the Myths That Lead to a Misunderstanding About Epilepsy?
There are many common myths and misconceptions about epilepsy which serve to illustrate the widespread misunderstanding about epilepsy. The Epilepsy Foundation and others seek to dispel myths about epilepsy by increasing awareness and understanding. Here are a few of the myths. Test yourself. Which did you think were true?
Myth #1: Epilepsy is rare and not very many people have epilepsy.
There are more than twice as many people with epilepsy in the USA than the combined number of people with cerebral palsy (500,000), muscular dystrophy (250,000), multiple sclerosis (350,000), and cystic fibrosis (30,000). Epilepsy can occur as a single condition or may accompany other conditions affecting the brain, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.
Myth #2: Epilepsy is contagious.
You simply cannot catch epilepsy from another person.
Myth #3: Only kids get epilepsy.
Epilepsy happens to people over age 65 almost as often as it does to children under 10 years of age. Seizures in the elderly are often the after-effect of other health problems like stroke and heart disease.
Myth #4: People with epilepsy are disabled and cannot work.
People with epilepsy have the same range of abilities and intelligence as the rest of us. Some have severe seizures and cannot work; others are successful and productive in challenging careers.
Myth #5: You should force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure.
Absolutely not! That’s a good way to chip teeth, puncture gums, or even break someone’s jaw. The correct first aid is simple. Just gently roll the person on one side and put something soft under the head to protect from injury.
Myth #6: You should restrain someone having a seizure.
Never use restraint. The seizure will run its course and you cannot stop it.
Myth #7: With today’s medications, epilepsy is largely a solved problem.
Epilepsy is a chronic medical problem that for many people can be successfully treated. Unfortunately, treatment does not work for everyone and there is a critical need for more research to treat and cure the epilepsies.
Myth #8: You cannot tell what a person might do during a seizure.
Seizures commonly take a characteristic form and the individual will do much the same thing during each seizure episode. The behavior may be inappropriate for the time and place, but it is unlikely to cause harm to anyone.
Myth #9: You can die from epilepsy.
People rarely die as a direct result of an epileptic seizure. Death can result from serious medical conditions that cause epilepsy. Some examples of these serious medical conditions are strokes, severe head trauma, or malignant brain tumor.
Prolonged seizure attacks (status epilepticus) can result in death.
Also, there is the phenomenon of sudden unexplained death (SUDEP) that occurs infrequently in persons with uncontrolled epilepsy.
Myth #10: If I have epilepsy, I should not get pregnant.
The overwhelming majority of women with epilepsy have normal, healthy babies. Although the risk of birth defects is increased over the general population, the overall risks are low, and can be minimized by working with your neurologist and obstetrician.
What does the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota offer those affected by seizures?
Celebrating 50 years of service to Minnesota – the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota works to enhance the quality of life of those affected by seizures. The Foundation delivers on this mission by educating, connecting and empowering people. A variety of programs are available, many free of charge:
* Seizure First Aid & Recognition Training
* Classroom Education for Students & Teachers
* Workshops & Conferences
* Adult Peer Groups
* Family Fun Events
* Shining Star Program – recognizing children with seizures
* Camp Oz – especially for kids and teens with seizures
* Free Information & Referral Services
* Special Events
For more information about epilepsy and the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota please call 1-800-779-0777 or online at www.efmn.org.