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Epilepsy: what you need to know

Written by Government Employees Medical Scheme
Epilepsy, which is also known as a seizure disorder, affects hundreds of thousands of people of all races and backgrounds in South Africa.

A seizure disorder is a common condition that affects the brain and nervous system. An estimated one in 100 South Africans will suffer from epilepsy at some point in their lives.

Dr Stan Moloabi, Executive Healthcare Manager at the Government Employees Medical Scheme says everyone should learn about this medical condition and what to do in the event that someone they know has a seizure.

“Many of us are likely to come across someone who is epileptic, or having a seizure, at some point in our lives,” he adds.

“Seizures may have many different causes and anyone could suffer one at some point in their lives. South Africans should keep this in mind before judging those who suffer a seizure or from epilepsy.”

A seizure is a rush of electrical activity in the brain that affects how a person feels or acts for a time.

It can take many different forms and can affect different people in different ways. Some seizures are mild; the person may just feel absent for a second or two and not even notice that they have had a seizure.

In other, more major seizures, the individual may lose consciousness, their body may become rigid or stiff and they may make fast jerking movements.

Epilepsy can be managed and controlled with medicines or other medical treatments in the great majority of cases.

Causes of seizures include:
  • Epilepsy may be inherited.
  • Infections of the brain such as meningitis and encephalitis.
  • Tumours.
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain caused by conditions such as low blood sugar and diabetes.
  • Withdrawal from alcohol.
  • Use of certain street drugs.
How to handle a person having a seizure
The following are some steps that should be taken when responding to a person having a seizure:
  • Do your best to stay calm.
  • Call emergency services.
  • Try to prevent injury by ensuring that there is nothing nearby or within reach that could harm the person.
  • Keep yourself out of harm’s way – there is no need to try and restrain anyone who is having a seizure.
  • Do not put anything in the person's mouth.
  • Once the individual’s seizure has stopped place them in the recovery position. Turn the person’s head so any vomit can easily drain from their mouth and make sure they are breathing normally.
  • Do not give the person liquids, medication or food until they are fully alert.
  • Stay with the person until he or she recovers, which should be within five to 20 minutes.

“Remember that the great majority of epileptics respond well to treatment, so anyone who is suffering from the condition should be encouraged to visit their doctor,” adds Dr Moloabi.