Seizures and Epilepsy: Common Myths
Despite being the fourth most common neurological disorder, epilepsy is still widely misunderstood. There are still many misconceptions regarding epilepsy and seizures, including what causes a seizure and what treatment options are available.
Some of the most common myths, like restraining or placing an object in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure, can even be harmful. It’s valuable to remedy these falsehoods for the health and safety of all, as not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy and not all seizures are the same. Below are the most common myths related to epilepsy and seizures.
Everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy - FALSE
Anyone can have a seizure. Recurrent seizures are epilepsy or sometimes referred to as ‘seizure disorder’ but having a seizure does not automatically guarantee a diagnosis of epilepsy.
Seizures can be caused by electrical misfiring in the brain as well as irregular blood sugar levels, very high blood pressure, alcohol withdrawal or even extreme stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Knowledge about seizures can help prevent some types of seizures, as well as control seizures better when they are recurrent.
Every seizure is the same – FALSE
Not all seizures resemble what you may have seen on TV! In fact, there are many different types of seizures, each marked by unique symptoms.
While many people associate seizures with uncontrolled jerking movements (tonic-clonic seizure), a person can also exhibit more subtle physical symptoms such as staring without responding, wandering about confused, repeating purposeless movements or even just an unusual degree of confusion, especially in the older population.
You should restrain someone during a seizure – FALSE
Trying to restrain a person can cause further injury – they may fight you in their state of confusion! Instead, turn the patient to the side, move anything sharp out of the way, remove eyeglasses (if any) and place a soft cushion under the person’s head. All of these steps are intended to protect them from injury. Most seizures stop spontaneously within 1-2 minutes.
You can swallow your tongue during a seizure – FALSE
It is physically impossible to swallow your own tongue. However, the relaxed tongue could block a person’s breathing passage. You should roll the person onto their side so the tongue can fall away and to the side. This also prevents choking on vomit and excess saliva.
You should put something into the mouth of someone having a seizure - FALSE
Never put an object into someone’s mouth during a seizure. Doing so risks injury to the teeth, gums, or jaw.
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After the seizure is over, the person immediately resumes complete normal function – FALSE
After a seizure, it may take some time for behavior to get to the baseline state. For example, many people may experience sleepiness or tiredness after a seizure event. With convulsions, the person may report muscle soreness.
Seizures or epilepsy affects one’s intelligence – FALSE
Seizures/epilepsy is a neurological disorder and has nothing to do with intelligence. However, having frequent seizures can impact learning and memory. Also, some medications can have side-effects that include fatigue, drowsiness and can impact alertness.
People who suffer from seizures cannot participate in normal activities – FALSE
Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, had epilepsy? Famous creative minds such as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Vincent Van Gogh, Elton John, and Prince are just some of the other successful people with wide-ranging careers who are known to have had epilepsy.
In most cases, seizure disorders are not a barrier to participating in normal activities. Restrictions apply when seizures are poorly controlled and can potentially be a cause of concern for the safety of the patient and others. With appropriate and adequate treatment, many people continue to play sports, attend school, drive, and go about their daily lives.
Seizure disorder or epilepsy cannot be cured – TRUE, HOWEVER...
Just like diabetes or hypertension, there is no cure for epilepsy or seizure disorder at this time. However, there are several treatment options for epilepsy and seizures that include medications, diet, devices and surgery.
Finding the correct treatment mainly relies on discussing your specific symptoms and options with your healthcare provider. With the appropriate treatment, many patients can become seizure-free and live their lives to the fullest!