Epilepsy is an illness of the brain in which a temporary alternation in brain activity causes seizures. On occasions these seizures are quite dramatic, proving distressing both for the one experiencing them and any friends or family looking on. This has no doubt contributed to the illness becoming the focus of urban myths and legends. Who hasn’t heard things like “if someone is having a fit you should put something in their mouth”? As is often the case, these beliefs are completely unfounded. Interesting in finding out the truth behind some of the most popular misconceptions associated with epilepsy? Then keep reading...
Myth 1. “When a person is having a fit, there’s always the risk they might swallow their tongue and choke”
Do people really think a person could swallow their own tongue? No-one has ever done it before - because it’s anatomically impossible. This particular misconception may have sprung from the alarming sight of blood mixed with foam that results when someone bites their tongue during a fit. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that people going into a fit stop breathing for a couple of seconds and occasionally go a bluish-purple colour. Whatever the case, there is absolutely no risk they will swallow their tongue.
Myth 2. “You should put something in the mouth of the person having the fit”
Don’t even think about it! You should never, and we mean never, put something in the mouth of a person having a fit. And not just because it’s pointless – it’s actively dangerous as it could lodge in the person’s throat and actually cause asphyxiation. We can’t emphasis enough just how dangerous trying to put something in the mouth of a person having a fit is – not just for them but for you, as the muscle contractions experienced during a fit could easily cause the persons teeth to clamp down on your fingers, damaging, if not breaking them.
Myth 3. “If you anticipate a seizure you should do all you can to try and stop it”
This is false. The first thing you should try to do when you see a person having a fit is to keep calm. Following that, instead of trying to stop it you should move the person into a safe position. This will stop them from accidently bumping into something and hurting themselves. When we say a ‘safe position’ the ideal position is - laid on their side, with their head resting on a pillow or something soft (or supported by you if there’s nothing to hand). Following that, the only thing you can do is wait for it to pass. Under no circumstances should you talk to the person, trying to convince him to stop. You’d only be wasting your breath.
Myth 4. “If you have epilepsy you can say ‘goodbye’ to a normal life”
While it’s true that epilepsy will have an impact on your life, stopping you from doing some of the things you might want to, the claim that you can’t have a normal life is completely unfounded. Yes there are some professions that are out of bounds for people with epilepsy (you won’t be able to become a pilot or driver or be accepted into the police force) and it’s best you don’t participate in certain sports (scuba diving and parachuting for example) but apart from that your only limitations will be the ones you put on yourself.
Myth 5. “Women with epilepsy can’t have children”
It’s not uncommon to hear people say that women with epilepsy won’t be able to have children. We’d like to clear up a couple of points in this regard. First of all – most women with epilepsy have completely normal pregnancies and births. Second – the risk of the baby being born with deformities, while slightly greater than for the general public, is still low. So, what’s the problem? Why can’t someone with epilepsy get pregnant? There’s no valid reason why not. The only precaution that should be taken is to talk to your neurologist before trying to get pregnant so that he can adjust your medication as he sees fit.
Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist
Last update: 21 June 2015
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