Epilepsy Awareness Month
Photo by epilepsynetwork.com
by Fanny Olsson
The month of November is perhaps most known for the Movember movement in support of curing Prostate Cancer, but it is also the worldwide awareness month for the neurological condition that is epilepsy. It is an illness which affects one in 103 people in the UK and is estimated to affect between 50-65 million people worldwide. It is an invisible condition; the only sign of it is recurrent seizures, which can take many shapes and forms. The most known type of epilepsy is called tonic-clonic seizures, formerly referred to as a ”grand mal” seizure, where the person would first collapse and then have all muscles cramp for some time.
A seizure is brought on by too much electrical activity between the neurons in the brain, and location determines what kind of seizure it is. They are often parted into two categories: generalised and focal. A tonic-clonic seizure, for example, a generalised type, affects all of the brain. A focal seizure can take the shape of only part of the body cramping, or an absence seizure, where the person is unreachable for a time, but otherwise not exhibiting any visible symptoms.
A person can be diagnosed and affected with epilepsy at any stage of their life, but it is mostly diagnosed in children and people over 65. It can affect anyone despite gender, age, race or overall physical condition. The cause of epilepsy is in most cases unknown. It can, for example, be hereditary, or stem from head trauma or excessive drinking.
The most common way to set a diagnosis is by doing an electroencephalogram (EEG), which records a person’s brain activity while they face a light flashing with increasing frequency. It can also be diagnosed by an MRI scan, if the cause is believed to be through head trauma. There are several triggers for seizures, but some can occur without warning. Triggers may be flashing images, affecting up to 7% of the people with epilepsy; stress; sleep deprivation; alcohol consumption, with an especially increased risk when being hungover; some scents; changes in season and temperature; and, among women, the menstrual cycle might affect it.
There is no cure for epilepsy, but there is medication which helps keep it under control and allows the person to lead a ‘normal’ life. Not everyone finds a medication that stops the occurrence of seizures, and even when they do, there can be side-effects. Getting the diagnosis of epilepsy and living with it often demands a change of lifestyle, including making sure to sleep enough, taking care to eat enough, and always taking your medication on time.
There is also something called Sudden Unexpected (Unexplained) Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), which is the death of an otherwise healthy person living with epilepsy, where no other cause of death can be found. Around 500 to 1,000 people die from SUDEP in the UK each year, often while alone or asleep. Recent findings in genes have given hope to learning more about what leads to this, but so far there is no sure way to know why it happens.
Since a seizure can affect anyone at any time, it is important for you to know how to act in the event of one. A great source of information can be found at https://www.epilepsyresearch.org.uk/, where you will be able to find all the information that you need. If you are feeling generous, why not take the opportunity of the awareness month to donate and help fund research looking for better treatments and a cure?