Ways to Help and Support Sufferers of Epilepsy

man on the ground

Around 3.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from epilepsy. Three million of them are adults, while 450,000 are children. Epilepsy causes seizures that may occur at any time, putting the sufferer at risk of injury if they are unsupervised.

The causes of the disease vary. Some known ones are brain tumor, stroke, traumatic brain injury or head injury, and an infection in the central nervous system. Sadly, there is no known cure for epilepsy, only treatments. Depending on its cause, a patient can be given anticonvulsant or antiseizure drugs, a vagus nerve stimulator, a ketogenic diet, or brain surgery.

As such, it can be emotionally exhausting to live with epilepsy. The treatment is costly, and though some seizures go away over time, some people live with it their whole lives. This can thwart the quality of their lives, especially if their peers aren’t familiar with the disease.

Living well with epilepsy isn’t impossible. But we can do more to make the lives of epilepsy patients even better.

woman having a seizure

Recognize the Signs of a Seizure

One way to help an epilepsy patient is to know when they are having a seizure. First off, note that their attacks aren’t always like what you see in the movies. Some types of seizures are actually unnoticeable.

Epileptic seizures are classified into two types: generalized seizures and focal seizures. The former affects both sides of the brain, while focal seizures only affect one area. Thus, focal seizures are sometimes called partial seizures.

There are two types of generalized seizures:

  • Absence seizure

    Rapid blinking for a few seconds or staring into space; also called petit mal seizures

  • Tonic-clonic seizure

    Crying out, losing consciousness, falling, muscle jerks or spasms; also called grand mal seizures

Focal seizures have three types, namely:

  • Simple focal seizures

    Twitching or change in sensation, like a strange sense of smell

  • Complex focal seizures

    Confusion, acting dazed, or inability to respond to questions or follow directions for a few minutes

  • Secondary generalized seizures

    Starts with one part of the brain before spreading to both; a focal seizure followed by a generalized seizure

An epilepsy patient, therefore, doesn’t always fall to the ground and convulse. Only a tonic-clonic seizure would cause such. So if you know someone with epilepsy, avoid assuming that you know their symptoms. Try to educate yourself about their condition, and you’d learn how to recognize their seizures and help them.

Know What to Do During Seizure Emergencies

A seizure emergency is when a seizure lasts longer than usual or when a series of seizures take place close together. Sometimes, the patient won’t even recover between episodes. In any of these scenarios, it’s easy to panic. But you can avoid that if you know what to do.

Whether it’s an emergency or not, here’s how to deal with a seizure:

  • Stay calm. Panicking may urge you to do deal with the seizure incorrectly.
  • Help the person lie down on their side, but don’t force them.
  • Remove any object that can cause injuries, like eyeglasses, pens, bags, and tight clothing near the neck.
  • Don’t restrain or hold the person.
  • Move away any object that can injure the person.
  • Check their breathing and ensure that it’s normal.
  • Don’t put anything in their mouth; a seizure making someone swallow their tongue is a myth.
  • Wait for the seizure to pass and calmly tell the person what they had just been through.

If the seizure lasts more than five minutes, call the emergency hotline in your area. You may call sooner if the person’s breathing becomes labored. Don’t attempt to give them CPR. Forcing their mouth open can cause an injury.

Know the Challenges of Life With Epilepsy

Because seizures can occur at any time, everyday activities like crossing the street, commuting, or cooking can be risky for epilepsy patients. These can make them lose their independence.

If a patient often experiences seizures, it’s best for them to live with someone. If they can be independent, you may help them in other ways, such as reminding them to update their seizure journal, giving them a medical alert bracelet, or finding them an epilepsy support group. Spreading awareness about the disease will help, too. It will debunk any myths about epilepsy.

Volunteer for Medical Research

Patients and caregivers can be epilepsy research participants. Volunteering for medical research will help doctors expand their understanding of the disease. It would also allow you to discover the treatments and drugs scientists have developed for epilepsy. And because of your service, you can receive the newest treatment and care from the research staff themselves. You can be a part of a major scientific breakthrough as well.

Epilepsy is a dangerous and serious disease we don’t often discuss. By spreading awareness and increasing your knowledge of it, you can help make life with epilepsy better.

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