Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions in the United States. But many people have misconceptions and misunderstandings about what it is and why it happens. If you have epilepsy and want to inform people in your life about your condition, the following 10 facts about epilepsy will help them understand it better.
Related: 5 tips for telling people about your seizures
10 epilepsy facts
The more we talk about seizures, the more that people will understand them. These interesting facts about epilepsy can get those conversations started.
1. Epilepsy is common
About 1.2% of the population of the United States has epilepsy. That's around 3.4 million people - which is just slightly more than the entire population of the state of Utah. Around the world, about 65 million people live with epilepsy.
2. One in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime
There are many different ways people can develop epilepsy. Some people are born with it, some get a fever which affects their brains, while others develop epilepsy after a stroke or a brain injury. But for many people we don't know what originally caused their seizures.
3. Epileptic seizures are caused by disturbances in electrical brain signals
There are millions of cells in our brains which send electrical signals to one another in an ordered manner. However, when someone has an epileptic seizure, these brain signals get ‘scrambled’ and that causes the person to behave in unusual ways.
Learn more: What happens in your brain during a seizure?
4. Epilepsy is not contagious
This is an important epilepsy fact to understand. It is impossible to catch epilepsy from someone else.
5. There are many different types of epilepsy
Epilepsy is a word that we use to describe any brain condition that causes someone to have two or more seizures. But people can have very different types of seizures which need to be treated and managed in very different ways.
Some people have generalized tonic clonic seizures - this is what many people imagine when they think of epilepsy. It is when a person loses consciousness, falls over and shakes on the ground. But there are many other types of epilepsy, and people have many different types of seizure.
6. One in 10 people will have an unprovoked seizure in their life
People can have seizures even if they don't have epilepsy (epilepsy is when you have two or more unprovoked seizures). Seizures can be caused by things like low blood sugar, dehydration, using illegal drugs and having a fever - among other things.
7. Seizures can have many different triggers
Sometimes a person with epilepsy will notice that their seizures seem to happen in certain situations. Perhaps the best known seizure trigger is flashing lights, which is known as photosensitive epilepsy. However, this is actually a fairly rare type of seizure trigger (less than 5% have it). Things like stress, tiredness, or forgetting to take epilepsy medication are more significant triggers.
8. Most seizures are not medical emergencies
Most seizures last between a few seconds and two minutes. If the person having the seizure has had them before, this is not usually a medical emergency. All the same, it is important to remember ‘stay, safe, side’:
- Stay with them until the seizure ends
- Make them safe by moving sharp objects away
- Try to turn them on their side if possible
This isn't to say that seizures are never dangerous. If a person’s seizure lasts for five minutes or more, they may have entered ‘status epilepticus’ (when seizures last a long time). This can be life threatening. If a seizure lasts for more than five minutes, call 911.
9. You cannot swallow your tongue during a seizure
This is another important epilepsy fact. It is impossible to swallow your tongue because it is attached to the bottom of your mouth by strong muscle fibers. Unfortunately, some people believe you need to put something in the mouth of people who are having epileptic seizures. You must not do this because it could block the airway.
10. One third of people can't control seizures with medication
When someone is first diagnosed with epilepsy, they will typically be put on anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) which can help control their seizures. However, AEDs only work for about two thirds of people. Individuals who have drug resistant epilepsy need to use different treatment options.
Myth busting: 10 common epilepsy misconceptions
Learn more interesting facts about epilepsy
Would you like to learn more about epilepsy? The Epsy blog is packed full of epilepsy facts and information where you can learn more about the condition, how it is treated, as well as famous people who have epilepsy.