November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. In honor of this and to raise some awareness, we’ve put together some common misconceptions about epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures. Seizures caused by epilepsy are not caused by another underlying illness. People experience epileptic seizures in many different ways and some people also have other medical conditions in addition to epilepsy. For centuries there have been misconceptions about what to do when a person has an epileptic seizure. Here are some of those common misconceptions (in quotes) and the truth about them.
- “When someone is having a seizure they might swallow their tongue so it is important to put something in their mouth.” This is a huge misconception! Putting something into the mouth of a person having a seizure could cause worse problems. It could break teeth, puncture gums, or even break the person’s jaw. The proper thing to do when a person is having a seizure is to gently roll them to one side and put something soft under their head to protect them from injury.
- “Someone who is having a seizure should be restrained.” Restraint should never be used on a person having a seizure. A seizure cannot be stopped and it will run its course. The best thing to do is simple first aid to prevent injury.
- “Epilepsy is contagious.” Epilepsy is a brain disorder and is not contagious. It cannot be transferred from one person to the next.
- “People with seizures always drop to the floor and shake violently.” Not all seizures will look the same. While epilepsy is different in different people, there are certain characteristics in each individual and much of the time, the same things will happen during each episode. The behavior of a person having a seizure is unlikely to cause harm to those around them and it is important for others to take care that the person doesn’t hurt themselves.
- “People who have seizures are also intellectually disabled.” This is not true! There are many people who have seizures who do not have intellectual disabilities. While some people who do have intellectual disabilities also have epilepsy, they are not one and the same and one does not necessarily cause the other.
- “An ambulance should be called every time a person has a seizure.” Most seizures are brief and stop by themselves. They are not usually life threatening, and don’t usually require an ambulance to be called. First aid should be given in order to keep the person safe.