There are a lot of common misconceptions regarding epilepsy and seizures in general. Knowing the difference between myths and facts is important in understanding this disease that has been in existence since 3000 BC (in those days it was considered supernatural and an ‘invasion by gods’!) The fact is, epilepsy is currently the 4th most common neurological disorder, so knowing the truth behind inaccurate myths is key.
Myth # 1: “Everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy.”
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. 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 PTSD. Knowledge about seizures can help prevent some types of seizures, as well as control it better when they are recurrent.
Myth # 2: “Every seizure is the same.”
Not all seizures resemble what you 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, in the setting of an infection.
Myth # 3: “You should restrain someone during a seizure.”
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. Most seizures stop spontaneously within 1-2 minutes.
For more information on first aid of seizures, click here.
Myth # 4: “You can swallow your tongue during a seizure.”
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 to fall away and to the side. This also prevents choking on vomit and excess saliva.
Myth # 5: “You should put something into the mouth of someone having a seizure.”
Never put an object into someone’s mouth during a seizure - doing this risks injury to the teeth, gums, or jaw.
Myth # 6: “After a seizure the seizure is over, the person immediately resumes complete normal function.”
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.
Myth # 7: “Seizures/Epilepsy affects one’s intelligence”.
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.
Myth # 8: “People who suffer from seizures cannot participate in normal activities.”
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 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
Myth # 9: “Seizure disorders or epilepsy cannot be cured."
There are several options of treatment that includes medications, diet, devices and surgery. Finding the right treatment largely relies on discussing your specific symptoms and options with your healthcare provider.
Many patients remain seizure-free on appropriate treatment and live life to the fullest!
Some good resources to learn more about epilepsy: