Epilepsy is a medical condition that originates in the brain and causes recurring seizures. Having a seizure can put you at risk of head injury and other complications, so it’s important to be mindful of safe practices at home and in the outside world. Integrating good practices into your life will enable you to have the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else.
Learn to recognize seizure symptoms.
Signs of a seizure can differ in patients and in the way the episodes unfold. The most common types of seizures include convulsions and loss of consciousness. Other symptoms might include arms and legs jerking, mouth trembling or a blank gaze.
Seizures are generally categorized as either partial or primary generalized. Identification is based on cause and point of origination.
Partial seizures or simple focal seizures begin in one section rather than the entire brain. Often, the person is aware of what is happening to them.
Complex focal seizures affect a larger part of the brain. The person might be confused and have difficulty understanding what’s happening to them.
Secondary generalized seizures begin as focal and spread to both sides of the brain. The person loses consciousness and convulses.
Generalized seizures can come on quickly. Both sides of the brain are affected. Seizures are accompanied by unconsciousness, convulsions, rigidity of muscle and jerky movements.
Make a seizure response plan.
Carry the plan with you at all times. You can print out the form and fill it in. You can also use a small notebook for the plan if you like. A Seizure First Aid app for your smartphone is available.
Include the names and numbers of your doctors, pharmacies and two emergency contacts.
Describe the types of seizures and how they’re manifested. Include their length and how often they occur. Note triggers for the seizure.
Provide a first aid plan for treatment. Include how long someone should stay with you, keeping the mouth clear and other details specific to you.
List medications, including amounts, when they’re taken and how they’re administered. Refer to other treatments you receive such as VNS.
Stipulate when emergency services should be called. Be specific in describing the circumstances such as a seizure that lasts more than five minutes.
Apply first aid to the person undergoing a seizure.
The primary focus of epilepsy treatment during a seizure is to make sure the person doesn’t get injured. In most cases all that’s required is making the person safe and offering comfort.
Reassure the person and stay with them until you’re absolutely certain that the seizure has stopped.
Stay calm. It will help the person having the seizure to stay calm. It will also help others on the scene not to panic.
Help the person to be comfortable. Help them to sit or lie down. Provide a pillow to protect their head.
Protect the person suffering from seizure from accident.
A person suffering a seizure is unable, to some degree, to control their body. Falling or thrashing movements are fairly common. The setting in which they’re having a seizure should be quickly appraised for potential dangers. Minimize the harm a seizure victim can do to themselves.
Move dangerous objects away from the person having the seizure.
Steer the person away from potential dangers such as a street or a hot stove. Lead them as gently as possible to a safe area.
Don’t forcibly restrain a person having a seizure. It could lead to injury.
Don’t place anything in the person’s mouth while the seizure is in progress. It may lead to broken teeth. They may choke on the object.
Help the person to breath properly. You may need to turn them on their side with the mouth pointed downward to prevent choking.
Call emergency services if necessary.
Although in most cases the help you offer is to protect the person suffering a seizure from hurting themselves, there are some situations that will require you to call for medical help.
If you’re in a public place, have someone else call while you stay with the person who is having the seizure.
Call for help if it’s the first time the victim has had a seizure or if the cause of the seizure isn’t known.
Call emergency services if the seizures are repeating rather than stopping.
If the seizure continues for 5 minutes or more, call emergency services.
If the seizure victim is unconscious for 10 minutes or more, call emergency services.
Call for emergency help if the person undergoing the seizure requests that you do.
Talk to your doctor about how you’ll treat your epilepsy.
Usually, medication will be tried first to lower the occurrences of seizures. Selecting the most effective anti-seizure medication might take time and experimentation. In many cases, once the right medication is found it can be quite effective. Some patients are able to stop taking the medication eventually with no further epileptic episodes.
There are many types of epilepsy (over 40) and seizures. There are numerous drugs designed to treat epilepsy and prevent seizures.
Your doctor will diagnose your type of epilepsy and treatment options will follow.
Antiepileptic drugs are quite successful in preventing seizures as long as they’re taken as prescribed. About fifty percent of patients are able to control their epilepsy over long periods of time.
Take your medication regularly. Make it a routine that’s so consistent the chances of forgetting to take medication are nil.
Speak to your doctor about identifying triggers, like fatigue, that signal an oncoming seizure.
Consider Vagus Nerve Stimulation.
VNS sends continuous short electrical impulses to the brain through the vagus nerve in the neck. This method can be an alternative if other treatments aren’t working.
A battery is implanted under the skin and is the source of the charge.
The doctor will program the battery to deliver an electric impulse every few minutes.
The patient will wear a magnet on a wrist band or on the belt and has the ability to produce extra electric stimulation if needed by waving the magnet over the implant.
Patients self-administer the electric stimulation when they feel a seizure coming on.
In some cases VNS is effective in eliminating or reducing seizures. In others, it’s ineffective.
Change your diet.
A ketogenic diet can help to reduce the occurrence of seizures.Ketogenic diets are sometimes recommended for children when medications aren’t successful.
Ketogenic diets are low in carbohydrates and high in fat content. The body breaks down fat for energy (instead of carbohydrates).
Ketogenic diets require the dieter receive close supervision to ensure they receive proper nutrition. Side effects from the diet also have to be monitored.
Talk to your doctor about surgical options.
In some cases an underlying condition of the brain is responsible for seizures. Under the right circumstances, surgery can successfully remove areas of the brain responsible for producing seizures.
If seizures begin in the same area of the brain, surgery might be a successful option.
If the area of the brain can be removed without doing harm to key functions, such as speech or eyesight, then surgery is an option.
Surgery is specialized and complicated and requires tests that may take weeks to be completed.
Electrodes may have to be implanted in the brain prior to the surgery to find the source of the seizures since the source will be removed.
If no further seizures occur after surgery, the patient has a good chance to live seizure free.
In some cases, surgery is not effective.
Make your home safe.
A seizure could come anywhere in the house and at any time. Your seizures may be controlled by medication. It’s still important to prepare for the unexpected by taking a few precautions that will make your home safe.
Place fire alarms on all levels of the house. Use fire retardant materials for your furniture. These precautions help to address the possibility of a seizure while cooking or smoking.
Install soft floors. Use cushioned flooring, non-slip linoleum or carpets rather than hard surfaces such as ceramic.
Choose non-coarse rug material to avoid rug burns in the event of a prolonged seizure.
Cover all hard edges of furniture, or purchase furniture with rounded edges.
Use safety glass to avoid injury by shattering glass during a fall.
Cover radiators and pipes that could cause burns. Be sure that your heaters are fixed to the wall and not free-standing.
Use a low-level bed in your bedroom to cut down on injuries from falls.
If you sleep face down purchase a safety pillow which has air holes to prevent suffocation.
Take special precautions in the kitchen.
The kitchen poses a particular threat because of appliances such as stoves which are sources of high heat. Care must be taken to avoid burns incurred during a seizure in the kitchen.
Pans and pots on burners should have handles pointed inward so that you can’t knock them over.
Use a wheeled cart to transfer hot plates, platters and pots to the dinner table, rather than carrying them.
Install heat-resistant work surfaces so that you can slide hot pots and pans, rather than lift them.
Consider using a microwave for your cooking to prevent fires from food cooking too long, and to avoid hot surfaces that could be the source of an injury.
Make your bathroom safe.
The bathroom, like the kitchen poses a special set of risks for someone who falls during a seizure. Make changes to your bathroom with an eye to eliminate the risk of drowning.
Use doors that open either way so that someone can reach you if necessary. You can use an “Occupied” sign on the outside of the door to allow for privacy.
Consider flooring made of rubber, or a non-slipping surface rather than a hard surface.
A shower is safer than a bath because water drains away.
Use toiletries made of plastic rather than glass or ceramic.
If you do choose a bath over a shower, it’s best to have someone in the house in case you have a seizure while in the tub.
A monitor which allows someone to listen while you’re in the tub is a good precaution.
Run a shallow tub and begin with cold water to prevent injury if falling into the tub while the water is running.
Sleep on your back.
Protect yourself from Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), a phenomenon in which a person with epilepsy dies suddenly, usually in her sleep. Though it is not clear why this happens, research shows that in 73% of SUDEP cases, the person was sleeping on her stomach. As a precaution, sleep on your back.
Consider a wristwatch, bed alarm, or even a service dog to detect seizures that may occur while you are sleeping.
Take extra steps if you live alone.
If you live alone, you will need to make some additional adjustments to ensure your safety.
If you wander during seizures, make sure you lock your doors so that you don’t go outside.
Consider signing up with a medical alert hotline, such as Lifeline. You will be provided with a pendant that can detect if you fall and alert emergency services.
Make sure your floor is always clear of any obstacles.
Place a chair or some other barrier in front of appliances that could burn you if you fell onto them during a seizure, such as the stove or radiator.
Know your rights when it comes to work.
The American with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination against people with disabilities including epilepsy. You should be able to live a normal productive life and not be hindered from seeking or maintaining employment.
Potential employers can’t ask you if you’re epileptic.
Your employer should provide a safe environment to accommodate your disability as long as those accommodations are reasonable.
Speak to another employee about your disability so that you’ll have someone who can care for you if you have a seizure. Provide your colleague with appropriate guidance literature and instructions about how to care for you.
Don’t work to the point of fatigue as that could bring on a seizure. If your shifts are too long, ask your supervisor to cut them back.
Avoid high places and machinery with moving parts at work.
Decide whether or not you should drive.
Driving can be an essential part of every day life, depending on location. In most states, people who have not had a seizure in three to five years are allowed a license without the obligation to provide a medical report. Keep in mind that your decision affects everyone you encounter on the road.
Stop driving if seizures reoccur. You’ll need to speak to your doctor and your ability to drive will have to be evaluated.
If you’ve had a seizure due to an unusual occurrence and have lost your license because of it, you could appeal the decision. You’ll probably have to provide evidence from your doctor that you’re taking medication that he prescribed.
Learn to travel safely with epilepsy.
Whether you travel by car, plane or train, you and traveling companions should understand the type and frequency of your seizures. Research your path and destination to know the availability of medical help, accommodations to meet your needs, and flexibility in altering travel plans if a seizure occurs.
If you’re seizure free and able to drive safely, confirm there are no problems with the legality of driving.
Take frequent breaks if you’re driving. You’ll want to avoid fatigue.
Don’t drive at night if you’re photosensitive.
If you’re flying, the Aerospace Medical Association recommends you travel with a companion who can care for you in the event of a seizure.
Bring a Seizure Plan with you. Also carry a letter from your doctor confirming you’re cleared to fly.
Carry your medicines and label them with specific directions in case someone who isn’t familiar with your condition must care for you.
Request a seat in the front of the plane where you’re more visible to flight attendants so that you’ll receive immediate attention if needed.