Just because you don’t have epilepsy doesn’t mean you’ll never have epilepsy. Though new cases are most common in infancy, the rate of new cases starts to increase after age 55 due to people developing strokes, brain tumors or Alzheimer’s disease, all of which can cause epilepsy.(1)
An estimated 1.2% or about 3.4 million people in the U.S. have epilepsy.2 This complex neurological disease is often misunderstood. As a result, several myths about epilepsy persist.
Myth: All seizures are epileptic.
Fact: Seizures are often not related to epilepsy because they can be caused by everything from head injury to high fevers to alcohol or drug use. Epilepsy, on the other hand, is a condition that causes recurrent seizures due to the brain’s electrical rhythms becoming imbalanced. Epilepsy also has many possible causes, including genetic factors, brain abnormalities and tumors, infections, traumatic brain injury, stroke and more.
Myth: People with epilepsy can’t handle demanding jobs.
Fact: People with epilepsy lead full lives. Former president Theodore Roosevelt, musician Prince and actor Danny Glover all lived with epilepsy. As do rocker Neil Young and Olympian track and field hurdler Dai Greene. People with epilepsy and seizures are not mentally ill and can work in most any job, including high-level positions in business, public office, sports and the arts.
Myth: Epilepsy can’t be controlled.
Fact: Treatments for epilepsy have advanced and include medications, devices that send electrical signals to the brain and surgeries that remove or destroy a small portion of the brain causing seizures.
People with epilepsy also learn to control the triggers that lead to seizures. These include stress and anxiety, lack of sleep, hormone changes, missing meals, flashing lights, skipping medications, illness or fever and alcohol or recreational drug use.
Myth: You should force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure.
Fact: Never put anything in a person’s mouth during a seizure because it can injure them. It is appropriate to roll the person on their side and move nearby objects away. You should call 911 if the person is in distress or the seizure persists for more than a couple of minutes.
People often have a stereotypical idea of what an epileptic seizure looks like. They think of people being unconscious and shaking uncontrollably, for example. That can happen, but there’s many types of seizures that fall into two categories.
Generalized seizures affect the entire brain and the person is typically unconscious. Focal seizures, on the other hand, affect one area of the brain. The person may be fully aware or have impaired consciousness.
Myth: Epilepsy can’t be prevented.
Fact: According to the CDC, there are several things you can do to prevent epilepsy.(3)
- Avoid traumatic brain injuries by using seat belts, helmets and preventing falls.
- Lower your chances of stroke and heart disease by eating well, exercising and not smoking.
- Get vaccinated to reduce your chances of an infection that can lead to epilepsy.
- Wash your hands and prepare food safely to avoid an infection called cysticercosis, which is spread by a parasite and is the most common cause of epilepsy worldwide.
- Stay healthy during pregnancy to avoid problems that can lead to epilepsy.