Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes disruptions in the normal electric functions of the brain. In Canada, one person out of 100 has epilepsy. It is therefore a relatively prevalent health problem, whose exact causes remain unknown.
Symptoms of epilepsy and types of seizures
Epilepsy affects people of all ages, especially children and those over 65 years old. Yet epileptic seizures are not always intense or “dramatic,” but rather depend on the severity of the condition and area of the brain involved.
Although involuntary jerking movements or convulsions are the most widely recognized symptoms of epilepsy, there are others, such as:
- Olfactory or auditory hallucinations;
- Total or partial loss of consciousness, which may involve the person looking dazed;
- Stiffening of the body or loss in muscle tone;
- Repetitive, involuntary gestures, like chattering teeth.
Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. When they last more than 5 minutes, however, it is especially important to contact emergency services since lengthy seizures can cause permanent neurological damage.
Before the onset of a seizure, some people may also experience a few warning signs called an “aura.” These signs vary from one person to the next.
Myths about epilepsy
Because epilepsy has been the object of many myths, fears and misconceptions among the general public, a vast number of people with the disorder are discreet about their condition. Here are a few myths that are still prevalent today, as reported by Epilepsy Canada:
1. You can swallow your tongue during a seizure.
It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue.
2. You should place a stick into the mouth of someone having an epileptic seizure.
Absolutely not! This can cause serious injury.
3. You should restrain someone having a seizure.
You should never restrain the person. The seizure will run it course. You might want to make sure that their immediate surroundings are safe, however.
Preventing epileptic seizures
People with epilepsy are advised to work and participate in many leisure activities, since it has been proven that an active person generally experiences fewer seizures. They must nonetheless abide by some long-standing advice, such as
- Adequately managing their stress;
- Getting enough sleep;
- Avoiding flashing lights (headlights, videogames);
- Following instructions carefully when taking their prescription medication.
Taking medication for the long term helps to control or reduce the number of seizures and their intensity. But there is no treatment that actually “cures” epilepsy.
Do you have questions about epilepsy and its treatment? Talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!