Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system. It’s characterized by recurrent seizures—sudden and uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain.
Around 1.2% of people have epilepsy in the United States, which adds up to about 3.4 million people.
Unfortunately, many misconceptions surround epilepsy and its symptoms, triggers, and consequences.
Here are 5 common myths and misunderstandings about epilepsy:
Myth #1: Epileptic Seizures Are Identified By Shaking Convulsions
The person is often shown shaking uncontrollably when epileptic seizures are depicted in movies or on TV. But not all seizures manifest in this way.
There are over 40 types of seizures, and the symptoms can vary widely. Some seizures may involve staring blankly, while others may involve muscle stiffness or jerking movements.
Convulsions accompany not all seizures, and not all convulsive seizures are due to epilepsy.
Myth #2: Restrain the Person if They are Convulsing
If someone nearby is having a convulsive seizure, you might be tempted to try and hold them down to stop their shaking. Do not restrain them.
Clear their surroundings of potential harm. Put something soft under their head. Stay with them until the seizure subsides and they return to full consciousness.
Similarly, some people believe that you should put something in the person’s mouth to keep them from biting or swallowing their tongue. Do not put anything in their mouth. They won’t swallow their tongue.
Call 911 if:
● The seizure lasts for more than 5 minutes
● The person does not return to full consciousness
● The person is injured, pregnant, or ill
● The person has repeated seizures
● It is the first time the person has had a seizure
● The person has difficulty breathing
● The seizure occurs in water
Myth #3: Seizures Are Mainly Triggered By Strobe Lights
You’ve probably seen warnings at movies or concerts about the use of flashing lights, as they can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.
While it’s true that flashing lights can be a potential trigger for seizures, this is not the case for most people with epilepsy. Lights trigger only about 5% of people with epilepsy.
Myth #4: Seizures Destroy Brain Cells
A seizure involves a sudden and uncontrolled disturbance in electrical activity between brain cells. This can cause a temporary disruption in the way the brain functions.
Seizures don’t generally destroy brain cells or cause permanent damage to the brain. However, severe, repetitive, or long-lasting seizures may potentially cause brain injury.
Some studies have found evidence of structural changes in the brain areas where seizures occur, but it may be more likely that this damage causes seizures rather than being a consequence of them.
Myth #5: People With Epilepsy Cannot Live a Full Life
Epilepsy is a serious condition that doesn’t have to limit your life. With proper treatment and care, most people with epilepsy can live full and productive lives.
People with epilepsy can work, get married, have a family, and participate in nearly all aspects of life. They may require some accommodations or supervision during higher-risk activities, but this doesn’t have to hold them back.
If you or someone you know has epilepsy, remember that it is manageable. Don’t let the myths and misconceptions about epilepsy stand in your way of living a full and happy life.