Do you suffer from epilepsy, or know someone who does? If so, you know the impact it can have on your life, and the lives of those around you. But if you don’t suffer from epilepsy (or know someone who does) you may not know much about it or even what it is. So, what is epilepsy? Can you “catch” it? What are the symptoms? Keep reading to find out the answers to all of those questions and more.
I remember as a kid watching some sort of “After School Special” on television that featured someone with epilepsy. After watching the program I was so scared that I would somehow “catch” epilepsy. Unfortunately the special didn’t do a very good job of explaining the disorder.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a brain disorder where clusters of neurons, or nerve cells, signal or fire off random, abnormal signals. When the normal pattern of nerve cell signaling is interrupted or disturbed, the body responds with strange sensations, emotions and behaviors. Sometimes when these “mis-firings” occur the body’s reaction is convulsions, spasms or loss of consciousness - called seizures.
Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and range in severity. Sometimes seizures pass even without notice. While the term “epileptic” is often used to describe symptoms of seizures, a person is not considered diagnosed an epileptic until they have suffered two or more seizures. Random seizures affect 1 in 10 people and are not uncommon.
Often seizure sufferers feel tired or disoriented when recovering from a seizure. They often have a difficult time remembering the events leading up to the seizure. While there are no concrete findings as to what triggers seizures, there are some suggestions to the cause, such as:
- Bright or flashing lights
- Lack of sleep
- Over-stimulation, like from video games
- Certain medications
If you suffer from epilepsy, it may benefit you to let those around you know about the condition and let them know what to do - and what not to do - should you experience an epileptic seizure in their company. Some things you can instruct them to do include:
- Stay calm
- Assist, but not force the sufferer to lay down
- Remove any backpacks or eye glasses from the sufferer
- Don’t restrain or hold the sufferer
- Remove any sharp objects from the area
- Stay with the sufferer
- Reassure the sufferer after the seizure
While the exact cause of epilepsy is unknown, it is speculated that it may be brought on by physical illness, head injury or abnormal brain development. Being diagnosed with epilepsy simply means you meet the conditions that fit the general symptoms associated with it. It does not indicate that there is mental disorder, and it is not a mental illness. In fact, between seizures, someone diagnosed with epilepsy functions just as normally as anyone else. And no, it is not contagious.
If you’re diagnosed with epilepsy, you may be advised to undergo treatments or take medications. Depending on when in your life you received the diagnosis, your epilepsy may subside, stay the same or get worse. Some children with childhood diagnoses see their symptoms gradually subside as they get older, others do not.
Regardless of the situation, epilepsy is treatable, and many feel early intervention is a key point to minimizing future symptoms and seizures. It has been found that in 80% of those diagnosed with epilepsy, treatment proved effective control of seizures.
There’s no doubt that epilepsy has an impact on your life. But it can be managed effectively, allowing you to live quite normally. And while some fear there is a stigma attached to the disorder, it is better to let others know if you suffer from epilepsy – for your safety and the safety of those around you.