How to Help Someone With Epilepsy
Many people with epilepsy live vibrant and fulfilling lives. However, there are some things that they must be very careful to do in order to stay healthy and prevent injuries and illnesses associated with uncontrolled seizures.
If someone you know has a seizure in front of you, the most important thing to do is stay calm. There are many different types of seizures including decreased or abnormal movements, staring, twitching, inability to speak, whole body convulsions, confusion, and sudden falls. The most important thing you can do to help is to prevent injury.
- Try to get the person safely to the ground, protect their head and make sure there is nothing preventing them from breathing.
- Try to turn them on their side so they do not choke on their own saliva or vomit.
- Absolutely do not place anything in their mouth. People do not swallow their own tongues. Usually, seizures stop on their own after one or two minutes.
- If a person continues to have back-to-back seizures, is injured during a seizure, or does not wake up, call 911. It is normal for a patient to be sleepy after a seizure but usually they return back to normal within several hours.
Patients with epilepsy must not miss any anti-seizure medications. The different anti-seizure medications build up in the system to create a steady state of medication for around the clock coverage and protection from seizures. If a dose of medication is missed, it should be taken as soon as possible. People with epilepsy should never skip doses unless instructed to by their physician. Things that can help epilepsy patients remember to take their meds include friendly reminders from friends/family, pill boxes, and phone alarms.
Patients with epilepsy must get regular sleep. Sleep helps protect the brain from abnormal electrical activity. Patients with epilepsy should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. People with epilepsy should not do shift work with alternating day and night shifts or extended 24 hour shifts. Patients with epilepsy often require more sleep than people without epilepsy; 12-14 hours of sleep a day can be normal for a person with epilepsy.
Anti-seizure medications can be hard to adjust to. Frequently, new medications can associated with side effects such as increased fatigue or difficulty sleeping, increased or decreased appetite, mood changes, cognitive slowing, nausea, vomiting, or GI upset. Typically, these side effects usually resolve once the body has had a chance to adjust to the new medication which can take up to several months. Patients with epilepsy may need extra support from their loved ones while they are getting used to new medication.
Concerning side effects to medications include but are not limited to:
- double vision
- difficulty walking
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- thoughts of hurting oneself or others
- difficulty staying awake
If your loved one develops any of these side effects while on a new medication, please contact their doctor right away.
Patients with uncontrolled seizures are not allowed to drive. Friends and family members can provide a huge service by helping these patients get to doctor's appointments and social activities in order to regain their sense of freedom and to encourage overall well-being.
About 24,000 women with epilepsy are pregnant each year in America. If a woman with epilepsy becomes pregnant, encourage them to see their physician right away. There are many things that we can do to promote a safe pregnancy and healthy baby. Women with epilepsy should not stop their medications when they find out they are pregnant. Instead, they should contact their physician for more information and to discuss all the options available.
Uncontrolled seizures in epilepsy are associated with sudden death. Although the exact mechanism of this is not known, uncontrolled seizures are thought to interfere with the connection between the brain and heart and may lead to arrhythmias which can result in cardiac arrest. It is important that every patient has access to the tools necessary to control their seizures. If medications are not enough to prevent seizures, there are a variety of procedures, including some surgeries, that can help. People with epilepsy should be encouraged to discuss these options with their physician.
Learn more about epilepsy care at Ochsner