World Epilepsy Awareness Day: Debunking Myths

Lack of knowledge about epilepsy has long led society to reject people with epilepsy in a very unfair way. They have been treated as people with personality disorders, when it is a disease directly related to organic lesions.

From Top Doctors we want to celebrate World Epilepsy Awareness Day by putting on the table some of the myths surrounding this pathology and dispel them with medical information from Dr. Yusta Izquierdo, a neurologist expert in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis, Headaches and Epilepsy.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are some 50 million people in the world who suffer from epilepsy. This pathology includes a group of neurological disorders characterized by the presentation of convulsive seizures. The WHO notes that “a single seizure is not a sign of epilepsy – in fact, more than 10% of the world’s population will have a seizure in their lifetime; thus, epilepsy is defined as two or more unprovoked seizures”.

Causes of epilepsy

One of the myths about this pathology is that epilepsy is contagious. In no case can epilepsy be contagious. In fact, the most common type of epilepsy is idiopathic epilepsy, i.e. epilepsy that has no identifiable cause. It is estimated to affect 6 out of 10 people with the disease.

On the other hand, there is epilepsy with known causes, called secondary or symptomatic epilepsy. Its causes may be:

  • Brain damage due to prenatal or perinatal injuries (e.g., asphyxia or birth trauma, low birth weight).
  • Congenital malformations or genetic alterations with associated brain malformations
  • Severe cranioencephalic traumas
  • Strokes that limit oxygen to the brain.
  • Brain infections such as meningitis and encephalitis or neurocysticercosis.
  • Some genetic syndromes
  • Brain tumors

How to act if a person suffers an epileptic seizure

Dr. Yusta Izquierdo, specialist in Neurology, explains that if the patient loses consciousness and falls to the ground, “the first thing to do is to prevent damage during seizures. To do this, we will remove heavy objects or furniture with which he can hit himself.”

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Something to be very clear about is that when an epileptic person suffers a seizure and once he or she has lost consciousness, nothing should be put in the mouth, as it can be dangerous to force the mouth open and can cause dislocations in the jaw and broken teeth. This is one of the myths about epilepsy that must be banished.

Once the seizure has passed “we will place the patient lying on one side, to prevent the tongue from blocking the airway. Once the patient has regained consciousness, he/she should be reassured and if it is the first time it happens, he/she should go to a Hospital Emergency Department. In addition, if the patient is a known epileptic, he/she should visit his/her neurologist,” Dr. Yusta points out.

Advances in the treatment of epilepsy

To treat epileptic seizures and epilepsy, the first step is to diagnose the cause of the seizure and treat it if possible. Dr. Yuste explains that “at present there are antiepileptic drugs that can be taken once or twice a day and that, with only one drug, control seizures in about 60% of epileptics. Up to 30% are controlled with two antiepileptic drugs; adding a third will only control seizures by 5% more.”

There are 10% of patients who may not be able to control their seizures despite the various combinations of these antiepileptic drugs. In these cases, “these patients are called refractory and undergo a protocol for epilepsy surgery,” says Dr. Yusta and concludes that “the type of surgery will depend on the type of seizures, the number of foci and where they are located.”