November is Epilepsy Awareness month—why not take the time to learn a little more about this common condition and find out how you can help someone having an epileptic seizure?
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that interrupts the central nervous system’s electrical activity with sudden bursts of activity. This disruption causes seizures and other symptoms.
Around three million people have epilepsy in the USA, with 150,000 new diagnoses every year. It’s pretty common around the world, too, affecting all genders, races, and ages.
Epilepsy causes a range of symptoms that affect movement and consciousness. They include:
- Seizures, which are often called “fits”—uncontrolled limb shaking or jerking
- Limbs going rigid and stiff
- Staring into the distance
- Odd tastes and smells
- Limb tingling
- Passing out
- Being unable to remember what has happened
What Causes Epilepsy?
Doctors still don’t know exactly why some people develop epilepsy, but there are some risk factors and influences that mean some people are predisposed to it.
- Having a family history. One in three people with epilepsy has a family history of the condition.
- Those over 60 and children are more prone to epilepsy.
- Injury, infection, or disease: a head injury, meningitis, a stroke, a brain tumor, or another type of brain infection can cause epilepsy.
- Lifestyle choices, such as excessive alcohol consumption and recreational drug use.
- Birth issues, such as a lack of oxygen at birth.
- Certain conditions and neurological disease are associated with epilepsy, such as Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, and cerebral palsy.
What Are Epilepsy Triggers?
Epilepsy triggers are certain environmental triggers or actions that cause a fit; they are not the underlying reason for epilepsy. Triggers are very personal and vary with the individual, but they can include strobing lights, alcohol, drugs, strong smells, lack of sleep, and stress.
Some medications, high fevers, stresses, or electrolyte imbalances can cause fits, too, but this is not true of epilepsy.
RELATED: Importance of Electrolytes
Who Tends to Suffer from Epilepsy?
Anyone with a risk factor can develop epilepsy, and sometimes it occurs for no discernible reason.
Epilepsy is a lifelong condition and it’s not curable; however, there are ways to manage it, ranging from medication to natural methods. Well-controlled epilepsy may barely any affect lifestyles—children can attend school, and adults can continue with careers.
Of course, there are certain activities that require extra consideration when you have epilepsy—swimming or skiing, for example. Drivers may need to report epilepsy to the relevant authorities and go fit-free for a certain amount of time before driving again. Planned pregnancies may require a change in drugs, as some drugs will damage an unborn child.
How to Stay Safe with Epilepsy
If you’re wondering how to keep yourself safe or to prevent others from hurting themselves during a fit, here are some way to make sure they are as safe as can be.
- Ensure that all prescribed medication is taken on time
- Install smoke alarms in case a seizure takes place during cooking or burning candles, for example
- Use covers on sharp edges of furniture to prevent injury during collapse or seizure
- Cover radiators and fires
- Don’t take a bath—shower instead
- Don’t lock doors, such as a bathroom door
What Natural Remedies Help Epilepsy?
Epilepsy can be well-controlled with prescribed medication—and there are various natural methods that can help, too.
The properties of marijuana and CBD oil are increasing under the medical spotlight. It’s no longer just a drug to “get high,” because cannabidiols (CBD) found in marijuana and hemp plants can support a range of disease control, from cancer to pain relief and epilepsy. The CBD oil used to treat epilepsy is not the same as the one that causes psychoactivity, which makes it especially practical for epileptic children.
CBD is an anticonvulsant. This study, for example, indicated that cannabidiols reduced seizures in patients with Dravet Syndrome—a rare form of epilepsy. Seizures were reduced by half in 43% of patients.
There are barely any side effects from CBD. The U.S. Epilepsy Foundation supports marijuana as a promising therapy, and its recent recommendation for approval by the Food and Drug Administration gives official backing to marijuana for medical use.
Following a ketogenic diet can help reduce epileptic seizures.
A keto diet involves eating little carbohydrates. This leads to higher ketones in the blood, which reduces seizures. It’s been used since the 1920s, but it’s still not known exactly how this helps. Experts think it’s because the body is using fat as an energy source instead of food, and this has an effect on brain neuron communication.
3. Vagus Nerve Stimulation
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve running from the neck to the torso. It sends signals around the body, telling it how to move and relaying brain messages back to the body.
Stimulation of the vagus nerve is carried out by an implant that’s placed in the chest. It controls electrical flow to the brain, as a pacemaker does to the heart. This implant can be activated as an antiepileptic when a patient feels the start of a seizure, such as faintness or a strange taste.
A lack of vitamins B6, E, and magnesium has been linked to epilepsy.
Supplements and an improved diet may help in some cases. Of course, an improved diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and fiber increases overall body health, which can lead to a boost in physical and mental well-being, too.
5. Reducing Stress
Stress appears to have an effect of the frequency of epileptic fits, with sufferers experiencing more fits as a result of stress and anxiety. Reducing stress is not always easy, but yoga, massage, and essential oils can help.
6. Getting Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep leads to seizures because it affects the brain’s electrical patterns. Getting enough good-quality sleep is an essential natural way to manage epilepsy.
What Can You Do to Help Prevent an Epileptic Seizure?
Preventing a seizure isn’t always possible, but you can potentially reduce their frequency and severity by lessening stress, sleeping consistently, avoiding triggers such as drugs and alcohol, always taking medication on time, and avoiding overstimulation from bright lights or visual disturbances on screen.
How to Help Someone Having an Epileptic Seizure
Having a seizure is frightening for the sufferer and observers. If you witness someone having an epileptic fit, don’t be afraid to step up and help.
First off, check to see if the person is wearing a medic alert bracelet or has a medical card in their purse or wallet and follow any instructions you find.
If not, stay with them, loosen anything around their neck, and make sure there are no objects nearby they could injure themselves on—things like sharp corners or heat. Roll them onto their side and place a pillow beneath their head if you can.
There’s no reason to try and restrain convulsions, as these are a part of epilepsy and you might hurt them. So, never restrain someone having a fit, and don’t put anything between their teeth, as they may choke.
Allow the convulsions to finish and reassure them that they’re safe. They may vomit or experience bowel control issues, so help with what they need. If they still appear confused, have facial weakness, or the fit lasts for more than a few minutes, you should call an ambulance.
Epilepsy is not contagious; it’s a common lifelong condition that can be managed by medication and natural lifestyle choices.
People with epilepsy can become depressed or embarrassed over their condition, so if you know someone with epilepsy, don’t be afraid to speak about how you could help.
Why not use Epilepsy Awareness Month to start the conversation and make a difference?