Epilepsy encompasses a number of different disorders marked by disturbed electrical rhythms of the brain and typically presents with a convulsive attack (seizure) usually with a clouding or a loss of consciousness. Epilepsy may be secondary (to some other injury or medical condition) or primary (actual cause not known). The social stigma attached to epilepsy is one of the greatest hurdles faced by people with epilepsy and it is sad that the public is often so very misinformed. Some common misconceptions about epilepsy include:
- Epilepsy is contagious: Epilepsy cannot be “caught” from being in contact with a person with epilepsy.
- “Epilepsy = stupid”. Unfortunately some people still believe that having epilepsy is associated with low IQ. It is NOT. There are complex details here and it is true that some conditions can cause epilepsy and cognitive difficulties, but this is by no means the norm. The vast majority of people with epilepsy are just as smart as anyone else.
- People with epilepsy are unemployable: Many people with epilepsy are successful in all types of work, including sports, the professions, manual work, trades, office work, etc.
- People with epilepsy cannot drive: This is true for some people with epilepsy but only where it is considered that the seizures are not well controlled and present a risk. Each case is assessed on merit and advice is given with great care.
- You should force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure so that they do not swallow their tongue: Do not attempt this! It is impossible to swallow your tongue and by jamming something into a person’s mouth you can cause trauma to the teeth and mouth. If it is possible to do so, it is a good idea to remove dentures and other objects that might be obstructing breathing, but do so gently.
- Epilepsy medications always work: Unfortunately, approximately 10-20% of people with epilepsy do not achieve full control of their seizures. This is partly due to the limitations of the medications and is sometimes due to the patients not following the prescription correctly.
- You can’t die from epilepsy: You can. “Status epilepticus” occurs when seizures cannot be stopped and, sadly, people die from this every year. Much progress is still to be made.
Certainly, epilepsy can be a serious condition but people with epilepsy usually function very well and are able to contribute significantly to society. People with epilepsy deserve respect and dignity, not discrimination.