Word on Health

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Word On Epilepsy

Our thanks to the Epilepsy Society for their contribution to this weeks report and for the use of the support information below. To find out more about epilepsy visit www.epilepsysociety.org.uk

As we heard, according to research greater public awareness of epilepsy, acceptance, understanding, knowing what to do when someone is having a seizure and overcoming the stigma surrounding the condition are the biggest issues for people living with the condition. Sadly, despite being one of the oldest recorded disorders, studies show that public understanding hasn't improved over the past decade. It's claimed fear, misunderstanding and the resulting social stigma surrounding epilepsy can often be the cause of more suffering than the seizures themselves.

Epilepsy is not a disease or an illness, it’s not contagious and having Epilepsy does not make a person mentally handicapped.   It is the most common serious neurological condition and can affect anyone at any time, regardless of age, colour or class.

More than half a million people in the UK have epilepsy, which is around 1 in 100 people. It is ten times more common than multiple sclerosis and four times more prevalent than asthma and diabetes.

Anyone can develop epilepsy. It happens in all ages, races and social classes however epilepsy is most commonly diagnosed in children and people over 65. 

1 in 20 people will have a single seizure at some time in their life – this does not mean they have epilepsy.  1 in 50 people will go on to develop epilepsy.

Diagnosis. Epilepsy is diagnosed on the basis of two or more epileptic seizures.  A seizure is triggered by a sudden interruption in the brain’s highly complex electro-chemical activity.

Everyone’s brain has the ability to produce a seizure, but in someone with epilepsy, it could be that their brain has a low seizure resistance.  Other causes are brain tumours, scarring of the brain because of head injury or stroke, or the result of an infection such as meningitis.

There are many different types of seizure. Over 40 in fact.  They vary from a tiny flutter of the eyelids or a momentary lapse in concentration (absences) to a full-blown convulsive seizure (tonic-clonic). So just knowing that a person ‘has epilepsy’ does not tell you very much about their epilepsy and the type of seizures they have.

Once a diagnosis of epilepsy is made, a patient will be put on anti-epileptic medication.  This treatment can control seizures in up to 70% of patients.

The most effective way of identifying the cause of a person’s epilepsy is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.   In some cases of epilepsy, where the cause can be identified by a scan, the affected area of the brain can be removed and the person can be entirely seizure-free with no serious side effects.

As we heard, many people do not know the basic first aid steps to take if they witness someone having a convulsive seizure which can result in many unnecessary ambulance call outs. 

10 First Aid Steps When Someone Has A Convulsive Seizure- where they shake or jerk. These are general guidelines provided by the Epilepsy Society   

1. Stay calm.

2. Look around - is the person in a dangerous place?  If not, don't move them. Move objects like furniture away from them.

3. Note the time the seizure starts.

4. Stay with them. If they don't collapse but seem blank or confused, gently guide them away from any danger. Speak quietly and calmly.

5. Cushion their head with something soft if they have collapsed to the ground.

6. Don't hold them down.

7. Don't put anything in their mouth.

8. Check the time again.  

If a convulsive (shaking) seizure doesn't stop after 5 minutes, call for an ambulance.

9. After the seizure has stopped, put them into the recovery position and check that their breathing is returning to normal.  Gently check their mouth to see that nothing is blocking their airways such as food or false teeth. 

If their breathing sounds difficult after the seizure has stopped, call for an ambulance.

10. Stay with them until they are fully recovered. 

If they are injured, or if they have another seizure without recovering fully from the first seizure, call for an ambulance.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.