Anyone can develop epilepsy. Epilepsy affects both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds and ages.Epilepsy is not a mental illness, and it is not a sign of low intelligence. It is also not contagious. Seizures do not normally cause brain damage. Between seizures, a person with epilepsy is no different from anyone else.
People with a parent or sibling who has epilepsy are at an increased risk for developing epilepsy.
Other medical conditions can increase the risk of epilepsy. These include Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, brain tumors, or problems with the blood vessels in the brain.
Problems during pregnancy, birth, or early development: In some cases, infections during pregnancy, problems during birth, congenital brain defects (problems with the brain that are present at birth), or injury to an infant’s brain may cause epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder, the hallmark of which is recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A person is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have two unprovoked seizures (or one unprovoked seizure with the likelihood of more) that were not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar.
The seizures in epilepsy may be related to a brain injury or a family tendency, but often the cause is completely unknown.
Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Seizure signs and symptoms may include:
A staring spell
Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
Loss of consciousness or awareness
Psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety or deja vu
Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. In most cases, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.
It can be very scary to be with someone who is experiencing a seizure, especially the first time it happens. Experts recommend you take certain steps to reduce falls or other accidents. This way you help keep the person having the seizure as safe as possible.
What To Do If Someone Has A Seizure
Call an ambulance or seek medical help.
Roll the person onto one side and try to place something under their head for padding. If they are wearing anything tight near their neck, loosen their clothing.
Allow the person to move or shake if they appear to be doing so (don’t try to restrain or hold them).
Check if they are wearing a bracelet that indicates the condition they are suffering from. Or, look in their wallet for related information (some people with severe epilepsy wear a bracelet to help identify themselves and warn of any allergies or complications)
A number of studies have investigated diabetes and its link to epilepsy, with most research focusing on type 1 diabetes.
A 2016 study, published in the journal Diabetologia, found that people with type 1 diabetes were 2.84 times more likely to develop epilepsy than those without type 1 diabetes.
Researchers are not clear on why people with type 1 diabetes may have a higher risk of developing epilepsy. One theory is that autoimmunity may be involved, while it’s also been suggested that prolonged high blood sugar levels could increase the likelihood of seizures. These theories have yet to be adequately tested and confirmed, though.
With many patients who suffer from seizures and who have diabetes, it can be difficult to determine whether they are caused by epilepsy or if the seizures are due to low blood sugar.
Doctors will want to watch the pattern and characteristics of the seizures to give them a better idea of the cause. They will also utilize a number of different tests such as EEGs and CTs to help aid in their diagnosis.
If it is determined that the patient is actually suffering from epilepsy, the doctor will discuss the different treatment options with the patient . For example, they may prescribe anti-seizure medication for the patient.
When suffering seizures, it is important to speak with the doctors about all of the possibilities to find the cause. This will allow the patient to find the best possible solutions to help them deal with the seizures and avoid being misdiagnosed.
Medicines that help prevent seizures are called anticonvulsants or antiepileptics. Your doctor will recommend a medicine based on the type of seizures you have, how often you have seizures, your age, and your general health. After you begin taking the medicine, your doctor will monitor you closely to determine whether the drug is working. He or she will also be watching for side effects, and to make sure your dose is correct.
Side effects may include fatigue, dizziness, skin rash, or problems with your memory, coordination, or speech. Call your doctor right away if you experience depression, suicidal thoughts, or severe rash while taking your medicine.
To help your medicine work well, follow your doctor’s instructions for taking it. Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor. Ask your doctor what to do if you miss a dose. Never take extra medicine, even if you think you’re about to have a seizure.
Talk to your doctor before you start taking any new medicines, including vitamins or supplements.
You should avoid drinking alcohol if you have epilepsy. Alcohol can make it easier to have a seizure and can also affect the way your epilepsy medicine works in your body. Some medicines can also make it easier to have a seizure, so check with your doctor before starting to take any new medicines.
If medicine doesn’t help your seizures, your doctor may recommend surgery or other therapies. If your doctor knows what is causing your epilepsy, treating the cause may make the seizures stop.
It may be possible for some people who have epilepsy to eventually stop taking medicine. However, this decision must be made by your doctor. Before you and your doctor can decide to stop the medicine, several questions should be considered. These include how quickly your seizures were controlled, how long you have been free of seizures, and if you have other illnesses that may affect your problem.
Natural Treatments For Epilepsy
Some people with epilepsy turn to natural treatments and alternative therapies to help relieve their symptoms.If you’re interested in adding something new to your epilepsy treatment regimen, speak with your doctor. They can help you assess the potential benefits and risks, as well as advise on next steps. You may find that some natural treatments can complement your current treatment plan.
After talking to a doctor, and before beginning natural treatments, people with epilepsy should ensure they are working with a well-qualified and informed therapist.
Making your own meals gives more control over what you eat, and some things can help make cooking safer if you have seizures. There are no specific foods that generally trigger seizures, as epilepsy is very individual.
Although there are some common triggers for seizures, such as lack of sleep, stress and alcohol, everyone’s epilepsy is different. Some people feel that some colourings and preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial sweeteners can trigger their seizures. Many foods labelled ‘low-fat’ contain these artificial ingredients. Some people with epilepsy avoid certain foods if they seem to trigger seizures.
Cooked food is usually healthier when steamed, baked, grilled, poached or boiled, rather than fried.
Drinking water helps us to function and concentrate, and reduces the risk of seizures triggered by dehydration.
Eating foods which release energy levels slowly and steadily help you feel full for longer, and often provide more fibre than foods which release energy quickly.
Steady energy levels can help you to feel more active, and the positive effects of exercise may also help to reduce seizures in some people with epilepsy.
A ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s by doctors to help control their patients’ seizures, especially those affecting children with epilepsy. Ketogenic diet treatment consists of eating a very low-carb diet, consuming high amounts of fat in order to fuel the body, and reducing protein intake to only low to moderate amounts. About 65-80 percent of calories come from sources of fat and up to 20 percent from protein.
People with epilepsy who wish to use this as a primary or complimentary treatment approach can test if they are “in ketosis” (the state of burning fat for fuel) using strips at home and performing a urine test. Patients might also want to work with a dietician for help. This is especially true in the beginning stages during the transition to this way of eating.
Omega-3 fats can help you keep a healthy heart and skin and can boost your energy levels.
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, and anchovies all contain high levels of omega-3. Other omega-3 rich foods include flax seeds, hempseeds and walnuts.
The Food Standards Agency recommends that adults should eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or who want to start a family are advised to have no more than two portions of oily fish per week.
Fats to avoid where possible include ‘trans fats’ or ‘hydrogenated’ fats in chemically processed oils, biscuits, cakes, margarine, and deep fried foods.
These fats are difficult for the body to break down, and have been linked to increased cholesterol levels which is a risk factor for strokes and heart disease.
Some herbs, such as chamomile, passionflower, and valerian, may make AEDs more effective and calming.
For patients of epilepsy, a direct intake of Basil leaves and application of basil leaf juice to the body are both equally effective. Its fragrant nature has soothing, calming and detoxifying effects on the body.
However, ginkgo, ginseng, and stimulating herbs containing caffeine and ephedrine can make seizures worse.
St. John’s wort can interfere with medications and make seizures more likely, similarly do evening primrose and borage.
Caution is advised when working with all these herbs.
Refer to our article Using Herbal Remedies Safely!
Research has revealed that a deficiency of magnesium in the body can trigger seizures in an epileptic person. Therefore, ensuring a diet rich in magnesium keeps you a step ahead of your next seizure.
Foods rich in magnesium include cashew nuts, almonds and spinach. Make sure you make all or most of these magnesium rich foods a regular part of your diet.Chances are that your doctor, too, will have prescribed a magnesium supplement in your medication.
Along with vitamin B6, magnesium, and vitamin E, which have been found to be helpful in treating epilepsy, doctors have found treatment with manganese and taurine reduced seizures, as well.
Thiamine may help improve the ability to think in people with epilepsy.
When AEDs do not work, some people have successfully used biofeedback to reduce seizures.
Biofeedback is a method of using relaxation or imagery to change body functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
With the use of extensive training and a machine that detects electrical activity in the brain, the technique teaches individuals to recognize the warning signs of seizures, and train their brains to prevent a full-blown attack.
Known for its antioxidant and cleansing properties, chamomile tea can also abate the symptoms of epilepsy. It is a natural soothing agent and works by calming the nerves. If you feel you have a seizure coming (many people say their seizures are preceded by headaches and anxiety), you should definitely try this remedy for epilepsy. Sipping a strong chamomile tea can be of great help!
Essential oils are natural soothing and calming agents. Oils of lavender, ylang ylang, and chamomile can be used daily to keep up nerve health and to reduce anxiety and stress related to epilepsy.
Limit your intake of alcohol and cigarettes. A healthy lifestyle can go a long way in curing and controlling a condition like epilepsy, therefore, give your body the fighting chance it needs by practicing healthy habits!
Managing Epilepsy And Diabetes Together
The symptoms of seizures can appear the same in diabetes and epilepsy, but the biggest difference is that a seizure caused by hypoglycemia can cause a diabetic patient to fall into a coma if not treated immediately.
Some people with epilepsy recover immediately after a seizure, while others may take minutes to hours to feel as they did before the seizure. During this time, they may feel tired, sleepy, weak, or confused.
Having a seizure at certain times can lead to circumstances that are dangerous to yourself or others.
Falling. If you fall during a seizure, you can injure your head or break a bone.
Drowning. If you have epilepsy, you’re 15 to 19 times more likely to drown while swimming or bathing than the rest of the population because of the possibility of having a seizure while in the water.
Car accidents. A seizure that causes either loss of awareness or control can be dangerous if you’re driving a car or operating other equipment.Many countries have driver’s license restrictions related to a driver’s ability to control seizures and impose a minimum amount of time that a driver be seizure-free, ranging from months to years, before being allowed to drive.
Pregnancy complications. Seizures during pregnancy pose dangers to both mother and baby, and certain anti-epileptic medications increase the risk of birth defects. If you have epilepsy/diabetes and you’re considering becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor as you plan your pregnancy.Most women with epilepsy/diabetes can become pregnant and have healthy babies. You’ll need to be carefully monitored throughout pregnancy, and medications may need to be adjusted. It’s very important that you work with your doctor to plan your pregnancy.
Emotional health issues. People with epilepsy/diabetes are more likely to have psychological problems, especially depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Problems may be a result of difficulties dealing with the condition itself as well as medication side effects.
Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). People with epilepsy also have a small risk of sudden unexpected death. The cause is unknown, but some research shows it may occur due to heart or respiratory conditions.People with frequent tonic-clonic seizures or people whose seizures aren’t controlled by medications may be at higher risk of SUDEP. Overall, about 1 percent of people with epilepsy die of SUDEP.
Status epilepticus occurs when a seizure continues for more than 30 minutes and it is a medical emergency as the stress on the persons body may lead to brain damage. Some people are prescribed emergency medication such as rectal diazepam or buccal midazolam which aim to bring them out of the seizure before they enter ‘status epilepticus’.
These need to be administered by a properly trained person. Training can usually be provided by the public health nurse in your area.
Photosensitive epilepsy is the name given to a form of epilepsy in which seizures are triggered by flickering or flashing light, glare and certain patterns. It is often assumed that everybody with epilepsy is photosensitive but only around five per cent of people with epilepsy are. People are typically screened for this when they are being diagnosed and would be advised that they have this form of the condition.
Guidelines for reducing risk to people with photosensitive epilepsy include distance
from screen, having good background lighting to offset contrast and using glare
reduction screens (although most newer computers, equipment has this feature built in). As other factors are naturally occurring and are hard to control, good guidance is for the person to place one hand over one eye in the event of exposure to an image that can provoke this kind of seizure.
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