By Tim Newman, Medical News Today
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), epilepsy affects an estimated 1.2%Trusted Source of people in the United States. That equates to around 3.4 million people.
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source estimates that epilepsy affects around 50 million people. Of these, some 80% live in low- or middle-income countries.
The primary symptom for most people with epilepsy is seizures. These are surges of electrical activity in the brain. Where in the brain these seizures occur can alter how they affect the rest of the body.
Beyond managing seizures, people with epilepsy often have to deal with stigma. As the authors of one study write:
“The stigmatizing nature of epilepsy and its associated psychological distress have been reported to have a significant impact on the quality of life of individuals with epilepsy.”
One way of reducing stigma is to arm people with the facts about epilepsy. Below, we tackle 13 epilepsy myths. To help us, we have recruited the insight of Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
1. Anyone who has seizures has epilepsy
Although epilepsy is probably the most well-known seizure condition, it is not the only one. Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, whereas other conditions may have different mechanisms.
For instance, low blood sugar or problems with the way the heart functions can cause non-epileptic seizures.
The most common form of non-epileptic seizures is dissociative seizures, or psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES).
PNES have an association with a range of factors, including mental health conditions and psychological trauma. It is worth noting that an estimated 10%Trusted Source of people with PNES also have epileptic seizures.
2. People with epilepsy cannot work
This is a myth. As Dr. Segil told Medical News Today, people with epilepsy or who have seizures “can work when their seizures are controlled by medicine.”
He also told us that he has “known fellow physicians with epilepsy.”
“There are only a few instances where having a seizure disorder disqualifies people from working, and these include being a pilot and truck driver.”
3. Epilepsy is contagious
This is an old myth that is still prevalent, particularly in some parts of the world, but it has no basis in fact — epilepsy is not contagious.
However, although experts know that epilepsy cannot transmit from person to person, identifying the cause is challenging. According to the WHOTrusted Source, “the cause of the disease is still unknown in about 50% of cases globally.”
The following are some of the potential causes of epilepsy:
- brain damage that occurred during or just after birth
- brain malformation with genetic origins
- severe head injuries
- brain infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
- some genetic syndromes
- brain tumors
4. People with epilepsy are emotionally unstable
There is a significant amount of stigma attached to epilepsy. Part of this stigma includes the theory that people with the condition are more likely to be “emotionally unstable.” This is not true.
“Patients with epilepsy are not emotionally unstable,” Dr. Segil told MNT.
“It is unsettling to have a seizure disorder and know a seizure can strike any time, but most epilepsy patients are happy [and] most epilepsy cases are easily controlled using monotherapy, or one seizure medication.”
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