There are a lot of misconceptions in the world surrounding epilepsy. In recognition of Epilepsy Awareness Month, we decided to fact-check 13 myths related to epilepsy and share the actual truth.
Myth #1: You will swallow your tongue during a seizure.
Fact: Actually, it’s impossible to swallow your tongue during a seizure.
Myth #2: If someone is having a seizure, you should put something into their mouth to prevent them from choking.
Fact: Never put anything in a person’s mouth who is having a seizure. This could end up hurting the person more. Instead, gently roll the person onto one side and put something soft under his or her head and wait by their side until they become conscious.
Myth #3: You should restrain someone having a seizure.
Fact: Never hold down a person during a seizure. Holding someone down can cause a bone or muscular injury. Instead, make sure the surrounding area is clear of objects and their head is padded with something soft.
Myth #4: Epilepsy is contagious.
Fact: You are not able to catch epilepsy from another person.
Myth #5: During a seizure, the person is in pain.
Fact: During a seizure, a person is unconscious and doesn’t experience any pain. However, some people may have muscle aches and can be tired after a prolonged seizure.
Myth #6: People with epilepsy are mentally ill or intellectually/developmentally disabled.
Fact: Epilepsy, mental illness and intellectual disabilities are all conditions that affect the brain. However if a person has epilepsy, it does not mean they have an intellectual disability or a mental illness. A person’s ability to learn can be affected by the frequency and power of their seizure activity. Overall, a person with epilepsy tends to have the same degree of intelligence as a non-epileptic person.
Myth #7: People with epilepsy are disabled and not able to work.
Fact: Most people with epilepsy are not disabled and are able to have rewarding careers. Each individual is different.
Myth #8: People with epilepsy shouldn’t have jobs with responsibility and stress.
Fact: Epilepsy is a non-discriminatory condition. People of all walks of life and at all ages experience seizures. People with seizure disorders can have successful careers in many different professions.
Fun fact: There have been several famous people throughout history that have been diagnosed with seizures in a variety of professions. Some you may be familiar with are: 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt; musicians such as Prince, Elton John and rapper Lil’ Wayne; actors such as Danny Glover)
Myth #9: If you have a seizure, you have epilepsy.
Fact: Epilepsy involves having seizures that occur repeatedly. Seizures may occur as result of several other medical conditions such as a recent concussion, a high fever or low blood sugar. If the seizures don't reoccur, it is not considered epilepsy.
Myth #10: All seizures involve convulsions.
Fact: Seizures can present in different ways. Some cause a person to faint and have convulsions (when their body stiffens then jerks uncontrollably). Other seizures can cause brief spells of blinking rapidly and staring off or simply cause the person to experience strange sensations (like tingling) or display off behaviors (like repeated lip smacking or hand wringing).
Myth #11: Videogames or strobe lights will trigger seizures.
Fact: Only 3% of people with epilepsy have visual triggers. Videogames with rapid flashing lights or alternating color patterns can sometimes trigger seizures, but this is very rare.
Myth #12: Epilepsy treatments don’t work.
Fact: Two-thirds of people with epilepsy can completely control their seizures with the right kind of medication with the right dose. For the other one-third, there are other treatments that sometimes can be added to the medication to improve the treatment. These treatment options may include brain surgery, nerve stimulation with an implanted electrical device or a special diet.
Myth #13: You can’t die from epilepsy.
Fact: Epilepsy is a very serious condition and individuals can die from seizures. Experts estimate that prolonged seizures are the cause of 22,000 to 42,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.