National Epilepsy Day 2017

Although epilepsy is the most common neurological condition in the world, it's still misunderstood by many. For most people with epilepsy, the biggest problem they have to face is other people's attitudes to and knowledge of epilepsy.

Epilepsy awareness

Take a few minutes to read some handy information we’ve put together to help you better understand the condition and those affected by it.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by abnormal chemical activity of the brain and causes repeated seizures.

The severity of seizures can differ from person to person. Some people simply experience an odd feeling with no loss of awareness, while others lose consciousness and have convulsions (uncontrollable shaking of the body).

8 Facts about epilepsy

  • Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition.
  • About 1 in every 100 people has epilepsy. 
  • Epilepsy can affect anyone, at any age, and anyone can develop epilepsy at any stage of life.
  • Up to 80% of people will have their epilepsy controlled by medication.
  • Many children with epilepsy will outgrow it.
  • Epilepsy isn’t a mental illness or psychiatric disorder.
  • Epilepsy isn’t infectious or contagious.
  • There are different forms of epilepsy and types of seizures.
  • Epilepsy affects people of all levels of intelligence and from all racial and social backgrounds.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

The diagnosis of epilepsy is largely clinical, and an accurate description of the seizures and the circumstances in which they occur becomes very important. Find out as much as you can, because understanding your epilepsy will help you explain it to your doctors and family members. You may find it useful to prepare a list of questions before you visit your doctor.

Detailed descriptions will help in the diagnosis and may determine the need for further investigations such as blood tests and medical scans.

If you're suffering from epileptic seizures, visit your local community day centre for medical advice and medication. 

Medication and helping yourself

The majority of people with epilepsy have their seizures controlled by anti-epileptic medication. The choice of drug depends not only on the type of seizure but also on the individual and it may take some time to achieve the right dose for each person.

Medication strengthens the resistance to seizures, so it’s most important to take the prescribed dose at the prescribed time.

Wearable technology

The computing company, Empatica, has created a seizure-tracking wristband called Embrace. It’s designed to detect and monitor stress signals and detect seizures, and has an accompanying app to help alert loved ones. The wrist-worn Embrace looks like a fitness tracker and is equipped with temperature sensors to detect changes in body heat, movement and even electric changes in the skin.

The device is designed to vibrate when it detects a seizure so the wearer can respond. Read more about the Embrace wrist watch.

Safety is important

If you remember some basic rules, you’ll minimise the likelihood of injury should you have a seizure. Make sure that whoever is with you is aware of your condition and knows what to do if you have a seizure.

  • Fires and stoves: Never come too close to an open fire and be very vigilant around primus and gas stoves.
  • Bathrooms: Doors should be left unlocked and avoid bathing while you’re home alone. A shower is often preferable to a bath, but if not available, bath water should be kept shallow and the taps should be turned off before getting in.
  • Sleep: Some people have seizures during their sleep. Sleeping without a pillow may be advisable.
  • Sports: If you take the necessary precautions, no sport is off limits. When horse riding, always wear a helmet. Swimming, mountain climbing and sailing shouldn’t be done alone.
  • Identity Discs: Get a medic alert identity disc from Medic Alert. It’s also a good idea to keep an Identity Card containing your name and address and your doctor's name and telephone number in your purse or wallet.

How to recognise a seizure and what to do

The following table should be helpful in recognising seizures and assisting a person when a seizure occurs.

Seizure

What it looks like

How you can help

Generalised absence

The person looks blank and stares.

There may be blinking or slight twitching.

It lasts a few seconds then normal activity continues.

Be reassuring.

The person may be unaware of the seizure.

Note that it has occurred.

Generalised tonic-clonic
 

 

The common sequence is:

  • staring;
  • stiffening of the body;
  • possible blue colour around the mouth; and
  • jerking movements.

As breathing restarts normal colour returns.

There may be blood flecked saliva and incontinence (rare).

Can last a few minutes.

Protect the person from injury.

Cushion the head.

Don’t restrict movement or put anything in the mouth.

Help breathing by putting the person on to the side.

Stay with him or her until fully recovered.

 

Complex partial

 

May start with a warning or “aura”.

The person may appear confused or distracted.

There may be repetitive movements, for example plucking at clothes.

Remove harmful objects and guide the perso n away from danger.

Talk quietly to reassure him or her.

 


Test your knowledge of epilepsy

Epilepsy South Africa wants you to ‘turn obstacles into true potential’ and invites you to take the following quick quiz to test your knowledge.

Connect with others affected by epilepcy

Do you have epilepcy and in need of support? You're not alone. Join Epilepcy South Africa's support group today and connect with other people who's also affected by epilepcy. 

The content on this page was last updated on 14 June 2017