Living with Epilepsy: The Myths

The condition of epilepsy has been documented since the earliest medical texts. Stigma against the condition likely reaches back even further in history. Over the centuries, epilepsy has been associated with religious experiences, demonic possession, witchcraft, and mental illness, among other things.

Even during times when epilepsy was considered a curse from the gods, however, there were individuals fighting against misconceptions about the disorder and the seizures that accompany it. Among these was the Greek physician Hippocrates, who argued against divine explanation in the book On the Sacred Disease, written around 400 B.C. Although there have been many advances in medical understanding of epilepsy, misconceptions about the condition continue to this day.

Epilepsy is now understood as an underlying tendency in a person to experience sudden bursts of electrical energy in the brain. The sudden imbalance in the brain may cause a seizure. A seizure can cause a range of symptoms in an individual, ranging from tingling in the fingers to stiffness, jerking, and loss of consciousness.

Unfortunately, misconceptions about epilepsy continue, and some can even lead to harm against a person having a seizure. People with epilepsy who wear medical ID bracelets or medical alert necklaces reduce the chance of having a well-meaning citizen do the wrong thing for them in an emergency.

Below are some common myths about epilepsy:

Myth 1: Epilepsy is a curse.
Though it is obvious to most that epilepsy is not a curse, this misconception persists in some places and populations. Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that can occur for various reasons. The condition can be inherited, result from birth or head injury, a brain tumor, or an infection in the brain.

Myth 2: Someone having a seizure is in danger of swallowing their tongue.

It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue. The anatomy of the tongue prevents this from happening. Hollywood has helped to perpetuate this myth by showing characters inserting objects like spoons into the mouth of a person suffering a seizure. Do not attempt this! Biting down on the object can cause someone having a seizure to break their teeth, puncture their gums, or even break their jaw. A person with epilepsy should be wearing medical alert jewelry that indicates that they have epilepsy, that directs a person to read a medical card in the person’s wallet, and has emergency contact information on it.

Myth 3: You should restrain someone having a seizure.
It is not helpful, and potentially harmful, to restrain someone having a seizure. A seizure will not be diffused by holding someone still. The seizure must simply run its course. You can make a person safer by rolling them on their side and placing a pillow under their head. Check to see if the person is wearing a medical alert bracelet that has on it specific instructions or an emergency phone number.

Myth 4: Epilepsy is rare.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, there are more than twice as many people in the U.S. with epilepsy than with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis combined. This is probably because epilepsy can be experienced on its own or as a feature of another condition such as cerebral palsy, autism, Alzheimer’s, or traumatic brain injury.

Myth 5: Epilepsy is a barrier to success.

Although epilepsy can present a challenge in a person’s life, in no way does it prevent success and happiness. With good medical treatment and support from loved ones, people with epilepsy often live normal, successful lives. To ensure the continuation of that success, it is important to wear medical ID jewelry to prevent mistreatment in the case of a seizure. If the myths that persist about epilepsy can be dispelled, success will be even more accessible to people living with the condition.

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