Living with epilepsy

Epilepsy is often overlooked as it’s not a disease, illness, psychiatric disorder or a mental illness. Instead, it’s a symptom of a neurological disorder, and is typified by unusual electrical activity in your brain. This activity manifests as seizures. Anyone can be affected by epilepsy regardless of gender, age and race.

Triggers

  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Poor diet.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Not taking epilepsy medication.
  • Flashing lights or bright patterns.
  • Menstruation and pregnancy in women.

There are different types of seizures and knowing how to recognise them will help you to manage them. The two common types are called primary generalised seizures and partial seizures.

Generalised seizures

Generalised tonic-clonic seizures
During this seizure, a person may shout, stiffen and/or fall to the ground. There is rhythmic tightening and relaxation of muscles and a person may turn blue around your mouth from a lack of oxygen. He or she may make strange noises, salivate and be incontinent, and will lose consciousness during the seizure.

Absence seizures
This seizure is often mistaken for daydreaming. It involves blank staring and failure to respond with possible twitching, chewing, and blinking of eyelids. There’s a brief loss of consciousness.

Myoclonic seizures
These are brief, involuntary muscle jerks. Single or multiple jerks can take place, as well as jerking of different bodily parts.

Tonic seizures
General stiffening of muscles without jerking occurs. A person may lose consciousness and fall.

Atonic seizures
This seizure is also known as “drop attacks”. There is a sudden and brief loss of all muscle tone, causing a person to go limp, lose consciousness and fall to the ground.

Partial seizures

Simple partial seizures
Consciousness is not lost or affected. Someone having a simple partial seizure may have an altered sense of perception, and spontaneous symptoms like tingling, dizziness and flashing lights. There may be some numbness or jerking in one limb or down one side of the body.

Complex partial seizures
This involves a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. You may stare into space and have abnormal behaviour or movements, like disorientation, lip smacking, or wander around aimlessly.

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How to help someone who’s having a seizure

  • Keep yourself out of harm’s way if the person is writhing around. Don’t try to restrain or restrict his or her movements.
  • Clear the space around the person. Make sure there’s nothing nearby that could harm them. Cushion the head for protection.
  • Loosen tight-fitting clothing or neck-wear and remove their glasses.
  • Wipe away excess saliva to help the person breathe. Do not put anything between the person’s teeth or mouth during the seizure. Take note of the time in which the seizure took place and how long it lasts.
  • Once the seizure has stopped, place the person in the recovery position, i.e. on the side, top leg bent, bottom arm extended slightly. Turn the head to open the airways and make sure he’s breathing normally. Stay with the person until he’s recovered. Do not offer food or medication until he’s fully alert.
  • Allow the person to rest. Sleep is necessary after a seizure.
  • If the person has been injured or the seizure lasts longer than six minutes, or if the person has repeated seizures without recovering, call a doctor or an ambulance immediately.

Self-care, if you have epilepsy

  • Try not to worry or stress about having a seizure. This anxiety may trigger seizures.
  • Get to know your condition and educate others, especially your family and friends, and those you work and live with. Teach them the correct way to handle a seizure in case they are with you when you have one.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet at all times to let others know about your condition.
  • Join an epilepsy support group and socialise with others who understand what you’re going through.
  • Always take your medication as prescribed. Never adjust your dosage or change your medication before discussing it with your doctor.

References