How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?
Epilepsy is not one condition. There are numerous epilepsy syndromes and each has its own symptoms, seizure types, causes, methods of diagnosis, outcomes and management. For this reason it's important that your epilepsy syndrome be identified and the proper treatment determined. Seizures can be convulsive or non-convulsive. Seizure types vary but the most common types are:
• Simple and Complex Partial
Generalised tonic-clonic seizures are seizures that involve the whole brain. There is a loss of consciousness, the body stiffens and the limbs jerk. These seizures generally last one to three minutes after which the person may wish to rest or sleep.
Absence seizures mostly affect children. These seizures also involve the whole brain and are associated with brief (up to 30 seconds) periods of loss of consciousness that may occur many times a day. Absence seizures are often mistaken for daydreaming or lack of concentration and can disrupt learning by creating gaps in information received. Simple and complex partial seizures occur when the abnormal cell activity affects only part of the brain. These seizures can vary widely depending on which part of the brain is involved. The person may experience:
• stiffening or jerking of part of the body
• a loss or distorted awareness of surroundings
• unusual feelings, tastes or smells
• temporary speech impairment
The person may also be unresponsive, confused or use inappropriate behaviour.
What Treatment Is There?
Most people with epilepsy will have their seizures controlled with one medication. It is essential that you take your medication as prescribed. Modern antiepileptic medications have few side effects; however, if you're experiencing any side effects, make sure you speak to your doctor. Drowsiness is the most common side effect but is generally only a problem at the beginning of treatment. Some medications may produce behaviour problems or affect learning in children.
Will Epilepsy Affect Your Lifestyle?
Generally, people with epilepsy cope very well. By managing your lifestyle you can continue to lead a full and active life. Don't limit your horizons. Certain situations may trigger seizures for some people. These are:
• Lack of sleep
• Emotional stress
• Excess alcohol
Although these situations may be difficult to avoid at times, a sensible approach will reduce your risk of seizures. You might find it difficult to cope with restrictions on your lifestyle, suspension of your driving licence or a possible need for career review, combined with the discrimination or stigma still wrongly associated with epilepsy within the community. Acceptance is the key. Once you accept that your epilepsy is part of you, you'll be able to move forward and take control of your life, rather than allowing the epilepsy to control you.
It's important for you to discuss a planned pregnancy with your doctor before conception. All antiepileptic medications carry a small risk to the unborn child. On the other hand, there is undoubted risk to the unborn if tonic-clonic seizures aren't controlled, for they can cause injury to the mother or baby. Planning will allow your doctor to alter your medication, if necessary, and monitor the effectiveness of the new drug prior to pregnancy.
In Case Of A Seizure
If seizures are likely to occur, it's important to tell teachers, friends and employers of your epilepsy for their safety as well as your own. Being informed and knowing the appropriate first aid procedures means they can help you. Look at the box on the previous page for the correct procedure for complex partial seizures and to check when an ambulance should be called. Absence seizures don't usually require any form of assistance other than reassurance when the attack is finished.
Useful Tips In Case Of A Seizure
• Move harmful objects away
• Put something soft under his/her head and shoulders
• Don't put anything in his/her mouth
• Don't restrain his/her action is dangerous to others
• As soon as possible, roll the person onto his/her side to assist breathing
• When the seizure is over the person may be confused. Reassure them until they are fully aware of their surroundings
Call An Ambulance If;
• The active movements of the seizure last more than five minutes
• Another seizure quickly follows
• The person is injured
British Epilepsy Association
Address: New Anstey House, Gate Way Drive, Yeadon, Leeds, LS19 7XY
Helpline: 0808 800 5050
International: +44 (0)113 210 8800
National Society for Epilepsy
Address: Chesham Lane, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks SL9 0RJ
Telephone: 01494 601300
Helpline: 01494 601 400
Epilepsy Association of Scotland
Address: 48 Govan Road, Glasgow, G51 1JL
Telephone: 0141 427 4911
Fax: 0141 419 1709
Helpline: 0141 427 5225
Contact Name: Mona McKeown
Website URL: www.epilepsyscotland.org.uk