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11 Epilepsy Myths

Learn eleven myths about epilepsy from Steve Wolf, MD and Patty McGoldrick, NP in this Howcast video.


- Patty McGoldrick:So, there are a lot of myths associated with epilepsy and these myths date back to well before the time of Hippocrates. So, way before Christ or before the common age. People used to think that epilepsy was caused by the moon. That it was caused by evil spirits. They thought that people with epilepsy were crazy. A lot of this still persists today. And there are more common myths that occur now that people really believe that are associated with epilepsy, and they are really not true.

So, things like you really can't get married. You can't drive a car. You can't go swimming. You can't reproduce and have children. And then, there are the other things like if someone has a seizure, you should put something in their mouth to stop the seizure or that they have to go to the emergency room immediately every time they have a seizure.

- Steve Wolf:People hear the word epilepsy and they think that it's some horrible disease, but yet you could be perfectly normal with epilepsy and hold very good job, have children, get married. We hear this all the time about camp where my child has seizures and they can't go to camp. That's not true.

- Patty:And what we do is empower people to live as normal as possible a life. Obviously, if you're having lots and lots of seizures then there are some restrictions, but in most states you can drive if you've been seizure free. And the time that you have to be seizure free before driving varies. It's about a year in New York state. So, seizure-free for a year.

The other myth is that you can't get married. Of course, you can get married and have children. There's no restriction on that, although there were laws restricting that in the past. Another one is that you are crazy. People with epilepsy are not mentally ill. There is a higher rate of depression with epilepsy, but people with epilepsy are not automatically psychiatric patients.

- Steve:And holding a job, some people feel that epileptics are not trustworthy, or they are not capable of doing something as intelligently as somebody else. And that's really not true.

- Patty:Although, we have had patients where they have been fired from their jobs because they have had a seizure at work, and that's illegal. And that's certainly something that's definitely managed by the American Disabilities Act. There's no reason to fire someone from their job because they have had a seizure. Then, talk about the myths about how to take of a person who is having a seizure.

- Steve:The myth about choking on your tongue, that patients while they're having a seizure could swallow they're tongue. And that's not going to happen. And that's why we tell people to rest them on their side and let them finish having the seizure, but don't put your finger in there because they are not going choke on their tongue.

- Patty:There's also a myth about having to take someone, it's not a myth really, but it's something that's done commonly, is that every time someone with known epilepsy has a seizure that they go running to the emergency room. Oftentimes, there is nothing acute that can be done for them. It's better to call their doctor. You're using up a lot of health care dollars by having people unnecessarily treated in the emergency room.

- Steve:That brings up the comment, having a seizure plan. So, where the family knows of someone who has a seizure, what to do if they have a seizure and everybody be on the same plan.

- Patty:So, the big misconceptions are things about what causes epilepsy. It's not the gods. It's not heavy metals. It's not the moon. In fact, there was just a study done in Ireland that totally disproved the full moon theory about it causing more seizures. The other things are that people with epilepsy can live totally normal lives. They, in most places, can drive if their seizures are well-controlled. They can swim. They can run. They can camp. They can hold down a job. They can get married and have children.

And the other misconception is about treatment of acute seizures. Again, not to put hands on your mouth or not put anything in their mouth and not to necessarily run to the emergency room if it's someone with known seizures, use your seizure treatment plan and manage it that way.

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