People know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but may not know that November is National Epilepsy Month.
Epilepsy can affect people of all ages and races. It has even been known to occur in mice, cats, dogs, and rabbits. But what exactly is epilepsy?
“Epilepsy is a brain disorder where excessive electrical activity in the brain causes seizures,” Brandi Butterworth, nurse, said.
Generally speaking, the causes for epilepsy are unknown. On average, seven out of ten people with epilepsy do not know the exact cause of it. Possibilities include anything from lead poisoning to a brain tumor.
Despite what the cause of an epileptic seizure may be, it can be a very surreal and terrifying ordeal.
“Our family found out about [our son] Andrew’s the week after his fourth birthday,” Cynthia Hall said. “My parents were visiting and we were all sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner. Andrew rose up out of his seat with his teeth clenched. We thought he was choking. When we realized he was having a seizure, I called 911 and the ambulance took him to the hospital.”
Unlike Hall, a common reaction to witnessing a seizure is to panic. So what is one to do in such a situation?
“You should always remember to not restrict any movement,” Butterworth said. “Give them medication if possible, but never through their mouth. Try to maintain their airway, protect their head, and monitor their vitals. Also, call 911 if it is their first seizure, if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, or if the seizures are repetitive.”
Though epileptic seizures are unnerving to watch, they are sometimes essential in seeing if the person still has epilepsy, or if they have outgrown it. The reason behind this is that certain types of childhood epilepsy could possibly go away or improve in the late teens or early twenties.
“It was a little scary when Andrew first started having seizures. You feel helpless because there is nothing you can do to make them stop,” Hall said. “We are glad the medication controls them. We ask Andrew twice a day if he has remembered to take his medicine. Once or twice a year, Andrew will have a seizure which lets us know he has not yet outgrown them.”
Unfortunately, there is not yet any foolproof cure for epilepsy. However, there are several treatments one could try to help prevent the seizures. Options include medication, surgery, a special diet, or an implanted device programmed to stimulate the vagus nerve (which helps prevent seizures by transferring regular pulses of electrical energy to the brain).Drug therapy is usually the first to be tried and is by far the most common among all of the varying treatments.
“Andrew has had to take the medicine every morning and evening since he was four. His seizures are controlled by his medication and he has never had a seizure during school,” Hall said. “If Andrew is extremely tired, he may have a seizure as he is falling asleep. With the type of seizures he has, Andrew’s neurologist feels there is a good chance he will outgrow them.”