Epilepsy Awareness Month

by Jillian Chertok


  • 1 in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy in their lifetime.


  • Right now, approximately 3 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide live with epilepsy.


  • Each year at least 200,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy.


  • In two-thirds of patients diagnosed with epilepsy, the cause is unknown.


  • It is estimated that up to 50,000 deaths occur annually in the U.S. from status epilepticus (prolonged seizures), Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), and other seizure-related causes such as drowning and other accidents.


These are just some of the scary facts associated with the neurological disorder epilepsy. Epilepsy, which means the same thing as “seizure disorders,” is characterized by unpredictable seizures, which can also result in other health problems. It’s a spectrum condition with a range of seizure types that affects each person differently. According to Epilepsy.com, someone is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have one or more seizures that were not caused by a known and reversible medical condition. The seizures could be related to a bran injury or a family history, but the very scary part is that often, the cause of these seizures is not known.


When we talk about devastating conditions and diseases, epilepsy isn’t one that often comes up. Perhaps it’s because unlike some other conditions, epilepsy is not always easily identifiable, so we don’t see how many people it affects, and how it affects them. I know, because I am one of those people.


I consider myself to be lucky because my epilepsy developed as the result of a terrible car accident years ago and is now very (knock on wood) well controlled on medication. In fact, I’ve been seizure free for almost 10 years! Unfortunately, that’s not the case with all epilepsy patients, and it can be a very scary condition to live with because it’s hard to tell when a seizure may strike and sometimes, depending on the type of seizure, you may not even be aware it’s happening.


Types of Seizures

Generalized Seizures

  • Grand Mal (the most common, dramatic and well known type) – Unconsciousness, convulsions, muscle rigidity.
  • Absence – Brief loss of consciousness.
  • Myoclonic – Sporadic, jerking movements.
  • Clonic – Repetitive, jerking movements.
  • Tonic – Muscle stiffness, rigidity.
  • Atonic – Loss of muscle tone.


Partial Seizures

  • Simple – When awareness is retained. Can include jerking; muscle rigidity; spasms; head turning; unusual sensations affecting vision, hearing, smell, taste or touch; memory or emotional disturbances. For years I was having frequent simple seizures (and very occasional grand mal ones), and didn’t even know it because I didn’t lose consciousness or awareness.
  • Complex – Includes impairment of awareness. Automations such as lip smacking, chewing, fidgeting, walking and other repetitive, involuntary but coordinated movements.
  • Partial seizure with secondary generalization – Symptoms that are initially associated with a preservation of consciousness that then evolves into a loss of consciousness and convulsions.


How to Reduce Your Risk of Having an Epileptic Seizure

If you have epilepsy, a seizure-free life may not be possible, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of having one, such as:

  • Know your triggers and try to avoid them. Triggers like stress, anxiety, change in sleep schedule, change in medication, overstimulation of senses (i.e bright flashing lights), etc.
  • Get plenty of sleep each night.
  • Avoid excessive drug and alcohol use.
  • Stick to a healthy diet
  • If your doctor has prescribed you medication, take it as directed.


What to Do if You See Someone Having a Seizure

If you see someone having a seizure, stay calm and call 911. The American Academy of Neurology also offers these great tips:

  • If the person is standing, prevent her from falling by holding her in a hug, or try to help her gently to the floor.
  • Move away furniture or other objects that might injure the person during the seizure.
  • If the person having a seizure is on the ground when you arrive, try to position her on her side so that any saliva or vomit can leak out of her mouth rather than be swallowed or go down the windpipe.
  • Do not put anything, including your fingers, into the person’s mouth while she is seizing. You could chip the person’s tooth, or your finger could be bitten.
  • Do not try to hold the person down because this can cause injury, such as a dislocated shoulder.

After the seizure:

  • Check the person for injuries.
  • If you could not turn the person onto her side during the seizure, do so when the seizure has ended and the person is calm.
  • If the person is having trouble breathing, use your finger to gently clear her mouth of any saliva or vomit. If this does not work, call for emergency help.
  • Loosen tight clothing around the person’s neck and waist.
  • Provide a safe area where the person can rest.
  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink until she is fully conscious and aware of her surroundings.
  • Stay with the person until she is awake and any confusion wears off. Most people feel sleepy or confused after a seizure.

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