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Learning about epilepsy

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

Misconceptions about epilepsy can be lessened if more people are taught about the condition and what to do when a person has a seizure.

One in every 100 South Africans is affected by epilepsy, according to Epilepsy South Africa.

Epilepsy, which is a neurological disorder characterised by recurrent seizures, is a chronic condition without a cure but can be controlled with medication and a healthy lifestyle.

Up to 80 percent of people with epilepsy will be able to control their seizures with medication.

Epilepsy South Africa estimates that up to five percent of the population will experience one seizure in their lifetime.

About 66 percent of epilepsy patients have what is called idiopathic epilepsy, in which the underlying causes are unknown.

In symptomatic epilepsy, the causes are generally known and can include a head injury, a birth injury such as the lack of oxygen during birth; alcohol and drug abuse; aging and metabolic or biochemical disturbances or imbalance.

Seizures may either be generalised – in which sufferers may lose consciousness, or partial – causing seizures but no lack of consciousness.

The main forms of seizures are generalised absence seizures – characterised by;

  • Momentary blankness and slight twitching and often mistaken for daydreaming.
  • Generalised tonic-clonic seizures – characterised by muscle stiffening and convulsions.
  • Complex partial seizures – characterised by repetitive movements, such as plucking at their clothes, confusion and distraction.

How you can help

During an absence seizure, reassure the person, who may be unaware of the seizure. Note that a seizure occurred and what happened, including the duration. The seizure will be very short lived before normal brain activity continues.

Tonic-clonic seizures usually last a few minutes. Protect the person from injury by moving objects away and cushioning their head. Do not restrict their movement or put anything in their mouth. Lay the person on their side once the seizure ends.

When a complex partial seizures occurs, remove harmful objects and guide the person away from danger. Talk quietly to reassure him or her.
*Information courtesy of Epilepsy South Africa

To find out more about how to deal with epilepsy, call Epilepsy South Africa on 0860 EPILEPSY (374 537). Alternatively, email info@epilepsy.org.za or visit www.epilepsy.org.za.