Epilepsy – Know the Facts, Not the Fiction

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 8:10 AM

Nearly one in 100 people are affected by epilepsy, and yet there are many common misunderstandings about this condition. Epilepsy by definition is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A single seizure episode does not constitute a diagnosis of epilepsy.

In recognition of Epilepsy Awareness Month—a month dedicated to increase awareness about epilepsy— Takijah Heard, MD, Pediatric Neurologist and Epileptologist at NorthShore, helps identify some of the common misconceptions about epilepsy:

People with epilepsy cannot drive.
True and False. Those suffering from a seizure when driving may put themselves and others at risk of severe injury or death. Whether or not someone can drive will depend on state and local laws, as well as physician recommendations. In many cases, once the seizures are under control, they may be allowed to drive again. The decision to drive or not is often a personal decision made by the individual, family and healthcare professional.

People with epilepsy should not have children.
False. While it is important for epileptic women to plan in advance and have a discussion with a neurologist, there is no reason why women cannot have children. In fact, the majority of pregnancies in epileptic women are uneventful.

Children with epilepsy never outgrow it.
False. Epilepsy is not a lifelong condition. Some epilepsy disorders are age-dependent. Meaning that some epilepsies start and end at certain ages and do not effect adult life. Many children who are on medications for epilepsy and remain seizure-free for two to four years may be able to be tapered off their medication and remain seizure-free. While medications will not eliminate the existence of epilepsy for everyone, it’s advisable to coordinate best treatment options with your pediatric neurologist.

All epilepsy is inherited.
False. While a family history of epilepsy may increase the risk for developing the condition, it is not the only factor and the risk is often very low. Generally, the cause of epilepsy is unknown in the majority of cases.

Epilepsy is contagious.
False. This condition cannot be spread or passed on to others. More than 65 percent of epilepsy cases are not linked to a specific cause. Frequent risk factors for developing epilepsy include: age, previous brain injury, stroke and infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.

If medications do not work there is no useful treatment.
False. Medication is one treatment option for epilepsy. Other useful treatments include: surgery, nerve and brain stimulation, and diet.

What other misconceptions do you have about epilepsy? Are there other questions you have about this condition? If so, please contact our Pediatric Epilepsy office at 847.570.2577 and ask to schedule an appointment to discuss your issues.

Additional information can be found at EpilepsyChicago.org, TalkAboutIt.org and Epilepsy.org.