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November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. From the 25th of October to the 25th of November, it is a chance to raise awareness on epilepsy and raise awareness on the symptoms and causes of epilepsy.
According to the World Health Organization, here are a few key factors of Epilepsy that people need to be aware of:
- Epilepsy is a chronic non-communicable disease of the brain that affects people of all ages.
- Around 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, making it one of the most common neurological diseases globally.
- Nearly 80% of people with epilepsy live in low and middle-income countries.
- It is estimated that up to 70% of people living with epilepsy could live seizure-free if properly diagnosed and treated.
- The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is up to three times higher than in the general population.
- Three-quarters of people with epilepsy living in low-income countries do not get the treatment they need.
- In many parts of the world, people with epilepsy and their families suffer from stigma and discrimination.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where brain activity malfunctions lead to seizures, periods of unusual behavior, as well as loss of awareness in some cases. Seizures involve a sudden rush of electricity in the brain and can be both mild, lasting a few seconds, or stronger seizures that lead to spasms and uncontrollable muscle twitches that could last between a few seconds to several minutes.
Who can suffer from epilepsy?
Epilepsy is not associated with a certain age, gender, or race. In fact, anyone can develop epilepsy regardless of age, race, and ethnic background.
Symptoms of epilepsy
The signs and symptoms of epilepsy depend on the type of seizure that the person is having. That’s why it is important to understand the difference.
Types of seizures
There are two main groups of seizures:
These types of seizures affect both sides of the brain. Under this category, there are two types of generalized seizures that could occur:
- Absence seizures
These types are often called petit mal seizures as they can lead to rapid blinking or result in several seconds of spacing out.
- Tonic-clonic seizures
Also referred to as grand mal seizures, this can lead to:
- Loss of consciousness
- Falling on the ground
- Muscle spasms
- Cry out
After having a tonic-clonic seizure a person is left drained and exhausted and in need of rest.
Focal seizures only attack one area of the brain and can also be referred to as partial seizures. There are 3 different types of seizures that fall under this category:
- Simple focal seizure
Because simple focal seizures only affect a small part of the brain, the person suffering from them can feel a change in sensation such as an unfamiliar taste or smell or even twitching in the body muscles.
- Complex focal seizures
This can cause a person with epilepsy to feel confused or disoriented and will be unable to answer questions for several minutes.
- Secondary generalized seizures
These types of seizures start in one side of the brain and spread to both sides which means that a person can start by having a focal seizure and then suffer from a generalized seizure.
Causes of epilepsy
The cause of epilepsy is still unknown in over 50% of cases globally. However, they can be related to genetics, infections, metabolism, auto-immune diseases. Some causes of epilepsy include:
- Loss of oxygen or trauma during birth
- Congenital abnormalities or genetic conditions with associated brain malformations
- Severe head injury
- Stroke that restricts the amount of oxygen to the brain
- Infection of the brain such as meningitis, encephalitis, or neurocysticercosis
- Certain genetic syndromes
- Brain tumors
What triggers an epileptic seizure?
For every person suffering from epilepsy, there are certain triggers that can result in a seizure, these include:
- Lack of sleep
- Bright lights or flashing lights
- Skipping meals
- Certain food ingredients
It is important to identify what triggers you and causes a seizure. This can be done by keeping a seizure journal and identifying key factors to help you find things in common between different seizures:
- Date and time
- Smells or sounds
- Stress factors
- Food you ate or how long it was since you last ate
- Level of fatigue
First aid for generalized tonic-clonic seizures
If you encounter a person having a grand mal seizure and see them cry out, fall, shake, or start uncontrollable spasms, here are a few things you can do to help:
- Calm the person down.
- Gently turn them to one side to help them breathe.
- Clear the area of any sharp or hard objects to prevent any injuries.
- Place something soft and flat under their head. This can be a folded jacket or blanket.
- Remove their glasses if they have any on.
- Loosen ties or scarves around the neck to help them breathe.
- Time the seizure to help them log it.
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Sources used in this article:
- Epilepsy – Mayo Clinic
- Everything you need to know about epilepsy – Healthline
- Epilepsy – WHO
- About Epilepsy – CDC
- Epilepsy – NHS