Overview

Coming to terms with epilepsy or hearing that you or a family member has epilepsy can come as a shock. This often arises from misconceptions of epilepsy.

Most people with epilepsy lead full and active lives while a small proportion require some assistance in their day to day living.

Everyone is different. The impact of epilepsy on a person’s life is influenced by the individual’s seizure type, severity of seizures, response to medication, lifestyle and attitude.

You should work to prevent epilepsy undermining your self-esteem. Work on your own skills and abilities. Be positive. Epilepsy should not stand in the way of achieving your goals. There may be times when you cannot do certain things because a seizure might be triggered. This does not mean you can’t achieve.

Likewise, epilepsy should not be used as an excuse to avoid certain situations.

Triggers

Seizures occur when a person’s seizure threshold is lowered. Factors known to cause seizures are called triggers and it is important to recognise these so that lifestyle changes can be made to minimise the risk of a seizure.

Known seizure triggers are: 

The most frequent cause of a seizure is forgetting to take your medication. 

Excessive stress may cause seizures, especially if combined with lack of food or sleep. You may want to try to reduce your level of stress by learning simple relaxation techniques. There are several books about how to relax and avoid stress that you can find at your local library or visit our website www.epilepsy.org.nz

Some people find that reducing or eliminating caffeine from their diet results in much better seizure control. 

Lack of sleep, becoming overtired, fatigue and lack of food may cause seizures. A well balanced diet with regular meals that incorporate a good supply of vitamins and minerals is important to maintaining a healthy body and brain. 

Excessive alcohol intake may induce seizures. This is often associated with failure to take medications, sleep deprivation and with irregular and inadequate meals. Drug abuse, poisons and toxic substances may also induce seizures. 

Emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, anxiety and excitement sometimes precipitate seizures. 

Some people are  sensitive to flickering light or sudden changes in light. Watching television and/or using computers may bring on seizures in a few people. Sitting well away from the TV and not too close to the computer screen in a well lit room can be helpful. Adjusting the contrast setting in the computer and TV to a low setting is also useful.  Flashing strobe lights may also have a seizure producing effect on some people. 

A variety of sensory stimuli can precipitate seizures, although these are quite rare. They include such things as certain types of music, noise, reading, math’s and chess, etc. Extreme heat or cold, or sudden changes in temperature may also trigger seizures. 

The sudden withdrawal of anti-convulsant medications can trigger non-stop seizures. These are life threatening and are often difficult to control (Status Epilepticus). Do not ever suddenly stop taking your medication. Medication should be gradually withdrawn or altered only under medical supervision.

Memory

A common concern of people with epilepsy is the effect epilepsy and antiepileptic medication can have on memory. Short-term memory can often be affected. This has implications for learning.

Strategies for remembering:

  • Make lists of tasks to be carried out
  • Keep an appointment diary or pocket notebook
  • Take notes for reference at a later date
  • Concentrate when receiving new information and relate it to something familiar.

Don’t be too proud to say ‘I can’t remember’. Memory problems are not unique to epilepsy!

Medication

Depending on the cause and type of their seizures, some people will need to take medication for the rest of their life. Others will be fortunate to gain full control within a reasonable period and be able to stop medication after two to three years of being seizure free. Stopping medication is a slow process and must be done only on the advice of your doctor.

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