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Common Misconceptions and Myths about Epilepsy

Updated on March 21, 2016
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Many people have misconceptions about epilepsy and epileptic seizures. They are intimidated by the thought of seeing someone having a seizure and not knowing how to do the right thing.

Epilepsy is a condition found in the central nervous system. The brain's electrical signals misfire, disrupting the communication between nerve cells for a short time. Scientists believe that this causes an "electrical storm" that leads to seizures.

The causes of epilepsy may be unknown, or occur because of a brain injury. Scientists say that some severe types of epilepsy are caused by gene mutations. Some young children may outgrow epilepsy, but others may need to be on medication for the rest of their lives. Many people improve with anti-seizure medications and may be able to gradually decrease or cease their dosage under a doctor's supervision. For some, medication is ineffective in treating seizures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 2.3 million American adults and nearly 468,00 children under the age of 17 have epilepsy. Nearly 150,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, mostly among kids and older adults.

Many people think that epilepsy is rare, but it is actually is a common condition. It is an invisible disability for the most part. Some people choose not to disclose their condition to others because they fear they may be marginalized or stigmatized.

Myths about the quality of life of people with epilepsy

Throughout time, people have blamed epilepsy on evil spirits, the moon, or mental illness. Misconceptions about this condition continue to exist today. Some people feel that people with epilepsy are unable enjoy life such as swimming, getting married, or having children. In fact, many people with epilepsy live normal lives. In some states, people with epilepsy can drive if they have been seizure-free for one year.

Some people assume that people with epilepsy have a lower intelligence than the general population or are mentally ill. These myths is untrue. Epilepsy is a medical condition, not a cognitive deficiency or mental illness. Seizures do not usually cause brain damage.

Others fear that another person’s epilepsy is an infectious disease that they will catch. Epilepsy is not contageous.

Some people believe that epilepsy is a lifelong condition. People with epilepsy may only require medication to control their seizures for a small part of their lives. The Epilepsy Foundation says that about 60 percent of people who have seizures have a type of epilepsy that is easy to control with treatment and may lessen or even disappear over time.

Approximately 25 percent of people with epilepsy experience seizures that are difficult to control and may require lifelong treatment. More than half of young people with childhood types of epilepsy outgrow the condition by adulthood. Many forms of epilepsy are treatable with medication and can be slowly decreased or discontinued by a supervising doctor after the person has been seizure-free for 1 to 3 years.

Myths about Seizures

Seizures are a reality in the life of an epileptic person. Most seizures last seconds or a few minutes. A person’s seizures usually follow what for them is a certain predictable pattern. It is helpful if the person with epilepsy has a plan in place that tells his friends or family members what to do if a seizure occurs.

There are several myths about what people should do in response to a seizure.

Many people believe that they should put an object into an epileptic person’s mouth to keep them from “swallowing their tongue." How a person can swallow their tongue is anyone’s guess, as the tongue ‘n cheek (pardon the pun) methods on the video on the right demonstrates.

In reality, putting an object into an epileptic person’s mouth may hurt him or cause choking. An object could also potentially puncture his gums, chip his teeth, or even break his jaw. The seizure must run its course without interference and th person should not be restrained. The person should not be touched during the seizure unless they are in danger of injuring themselves, such as hitting their head on something. A person cannot be snapped out of a seizure.

Most people think that they can recognize a seizure when they see one. In actuality, there are about forty different types of seizures. A person may lose consciousness for a few minutes while having a seizure, but appear to others as if they are daydreaming or zoned out.

Common Seizure Types
Characteristics
tonic-clonic
the person becomes stiff, starts convulsing, and loses consciousness, often falling to the ground
myoclonic:
one or both of the person’s arms start to jerk
atonic
their body suddenly drops to the ground but is able to stand up again almost immediately

A person having a seizure usually does not need to be taken to an emergency department at a hospital unless:

  • The person is having a seizure for the first time
  • The person is injured or hurt his head
  • The seizure lasts more than five minutes
  • The seizure is followed by a second seizure
  • The person remains unconscious for more than five minutes

Source

Many people believe that flashing lights cause seizures. This condition, known as photosensitive epilepsy, can happen but this type of seizure is rare. Epileptic seizures can be triggered by patterns, a specific piece of music, or other daily activities.

What we can do if someone is having a seizure

If someone having a seizure, We need to stay calm and not panic.

  • We should put them in a comfortable position in a safe place free of potential hazards
  • For most, the safest position is lying on the floor on his side to keep his airways open and prevent him from choking on saliva that may be produced during convulsions
  • loosen clothing that may be constricting his airway or hamper his movements
  • Put something soft under his head for comfort and to prevent injuries
  • Move any objects out of the way that may be hazardous to the person having the seizure
  • Expect that they may make some involuntary movements or speak words that they will not remember later
  • Assure the person that everything is OK and stay with him until he become alert. It is normal for the person to be groggy or unconscious for some time after the seizure is over.

More information on seizures is in National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke publication "Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research.”

Epilepsy in the workplace

Some people are concerned that the symptoms of epilepsy will interfere with an epileptic person’s job performance. Every person with epilepsy is different. Some may not have had seizure for a long time, while others only experience seizures in their sleep. Others, with some accommodation, can function normally in the workplace. Some people with severe seizures may not be able to work.

Some people feel that the workplace is not safe for people with epilepsy. People with epilepsy can assure their safety by working with their employers to raise awareness in their workplace about their seizures, and informing co-workers about what they can do to help. Some people choose not to disclose their condition at work because they fear the stigma that might limit their opportunities or change people’s attitudes toward them.

It is illegal for an employer to fire someone because they had a seizure at work according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an American with epilepsy is fired because of their medical condition, they can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate and if they find evidence of discrimination, they may pursue a settlement.

© 2013 Carola Finch

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  • Carola Finch profile image
    Author

    Carola Finch 16 months ago from Ontario, Canada

    I have no problem with the term disease and am not sure how someone would get that impression. Anyways, thanks for your positive comments.

  • RachaelLefler profile image

    Rachael Lefler 16 months ago from Illinois

    "dis·ease

    dəˈzēz/

    noun

    noun: disease; plural noun: diseases; noun: dis-ease; plural noun: dis-eases

    a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury."

    Just because you do not like the sometimes negative connotation of the word "disease" does not mean epilepsy is not a disease, it totally is.

    I've just experienced a nocturnal seizure and this was a very good, informative article explaining what I might need to know about epilepsy in the future! Thank you!

  • Carb Diva profile image

    Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

    Thank you for writing a hub about something that we really need to talk about. There is so much mis-information and bias. My daughter presented with epilepsy at the age of 27, with no history of head trauma. We still do not know "why" but her seizures are under control and she is living a happy, healthy, and normal life.

  • Carola Finch profile image
    Author

    Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks so much for your comment, Johna830. The information is there on the Internet, but scattered in little bits here and there.

  • profile image

    Johna830 3 years ago

    You're so interesting! I don't think I have read anything like this before. So wonderful to discover somebody with some unique thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website is one thing that is needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality! fbcgaaekedbd

  • Carola Finch profile image
    Author

    Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for your feedback.

  • profile image

    .... 3 years ago

    Epilepsy is NOT a disease. Ironic that this was the first line on an article about misconceptions.

  • wabash annie profile image

    wabash annie 4 years ago from Colorado Front Range

    Your Hub was very informative. Appreciate your writing on this topic when so many are at risk from blows to the head. I remember the days before seat belts and often people hit the windshield much too hard. Again, thanks.

  • Rachel Horon profile image

    Rachel Horon 4 years ago from Indiana

    Great hub. I always thought that anyone having a seizure was supposed to have something in their mouth. Your information is easy to understand and takes care of many questions I would have. I've worked with students who were being treated for seizures while they slept, but never had to deal with any.