Epilepsy Information and First Aid and FAQ’s
Question: What are seizures?
Answer: There are two types of seizures. Both are caused by an abnormal discharge of neurons in the brain. A generalised seizure includes the "Grand Mal" seizure most people associate with epilepsy where the person loses consciousness, stiffens and jerks. It also includes the "absence" seizure where the person experiences a blank spell, stares, and twitches slightly. For both of these seizure types, neuron misfiring involves the entire brain.
The other type of seizure is known as a partial seizure. Misfiring occurs in only one part of the brain. The person is often aware of his or her surroundings, yet can't control body movements and may experience changes in sensory perceptions. If more of the brain is involved, the symptoms become more complex and may include confusion, loss of awareness and listlessness.
Question: What are the most common causes of epilepsy?
Answer: There are five factors that are known to contribute to epilepsy risk. Head trauma, infection, brain tumor or stroke, poisoning such as lead or alcohol, and maternal illness during pregnancy. Heredity may also be a factor.
Question: Are there any other treatments for epilepsy other than medication?
Answer: There is a dietary therapy that has proven to be helpful for some patients who are not responsive to anti-convulsive medications. Known as the ketogenic diet, it is a special high-fat diet with low carbohydrate intake. The ratio of fat to carbs and proteins is usually 4 to 1.
The high ketone levels produced when the body uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates appears to improve the effectiveness of anti-convulsion medications. There are side effects though when a person stays on this diet for a long period of time. Kidney stones, high cholesterol, constipation, growth suppression or weight gain and bone fractures are some of the most important.
Surgery is also an option for some types of epilepsy.
Question: Can you swallow your tongue during an epileptic seizure?
Answer: No, you cannot. The physical structure of the tongue prevents this.
Question: I've heard I need to put something in the person's mouth so they don't bite off their tongue or swallow it. Is this true?
Answer: No, never try to force something into someone's mouth when they are having a seizure. You might chip a tooth, cut the inside of the person's mouth, or even break the person's jaw.
Question: What is the best thing to do if someone I know has an epileptic seizure?
Answer: Grab something soft to place under the person's head to help protect them from injury, and gently roll the person onto his or her side to keep any fluids from flowing down the throat into the lungs.
Question: Should I restrain someone who is having a seizure?
Answer: You can bruise and injure the person, so never try to restrain him or her. Instead, try to remove anything that poses a risk of injury to the person.
Question: Is epilepsy something that only children get?
Answer: More people over the age of 75 develop epilepsy than children under 10. It appears that strokes and heart disease is associated with this increased risk.
Question: Is someone with epilepsy disabled?
Answer: Very few individuals with epilepsy become disabled. These are those who are unable to bring their seizures under control through medication who do become disabled, yet this is not the norm. Most epileptics are just as skilled and intelligent as their peers. Except for the medication they must take every day, you would never know that they are any different. Famous athletes, scientists, business professionals, artists, government officials have all demonstrated that epilepsy is rarely a disabling condition.
Question: Does medication work for everyone?
Answer: While about 75% of those diagnosed with epilepsy do respond to medication with complete control of symptoms, the remaining 25% don't respond to pharmaceutical treatment as effectively. This is why EAWA supports ongoing research. The problem has not been resolved for all Australians, so we are continuing to seek answers.
Question: Can someone die from epilepsy?
Answer: Yes. Someone with epilepsy has a higher risk of death than the general population. Sudden Unexplained Death (SUD) in epilepsy patients may be connected with failure to take medication. Fortunately, SUD is relatively rare. It is far more common for someone to die from an epileptic seizure that occurs at the wrong time--while bathing or swimming, driving a car, standing near a balcony, climbing or going down stairs, or standing on a ladder.
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