When you first hear your diagnosis of epilepsy, you might feel confused, scared, or in a state of disbelief. You probably have questions about seizures and their impact on your life, relationships, activities, and your health.
As a partner, family member, or friend of someone diagnosed with epilepsy, you might feel helpless, scared, or worried, not knowing how to best support the person you deeply care about.
Myth and Misunderstanding
Epilepsy is our oldest diagnosed condition and the fourth most common neurological condition today. Approximately three million Americans are currently diagnosed with epilepsy. Yet myth and misunderstanding surround this diagnosis.
Most people have very limited information about or experiences with seizures. In ancient times, those with seizures were described as “being possessed by dark forces.” Even today, when asked to imagine a seizure, people usually describe a person falling to the ground, shaking and foaming at the mouth, and losing consciousness.
In reality, seizures take on many forms. While some seizures may involve obvious symptoms, such as loss of consciousness, others may be so subtle that they go almost completely unnoticed.
Epilepsy, also known as seizure disorder, is a neurological condition affecting varying parts of the brain.
Seizures occur when clusters of nerve cells in the brain, called neurons, communicate with each other in an erratic, atypical manner. During a seizure, the neurons’ normal pattern of activity is disturbed, causing them to fire at a much higher, more rapid rate than normal. This is why epilepsy sometimes is referred to as “an electrical storm in the brain.”
Seizures, depending on where the neuronal over-firing is happening, can have a variety of effects on a person. These include:
Strange sensations: (sensing a strange odor or taste, a deja vu experience, or a rising sensation in the abdomen)
Sudden emotions ( such as a sudden sense of unprovoked fear and confusion)
Behavioral changes (staring, lip smacking, unusual finger movements, loss of awareness of surroundings, or repeated swallowing or chewing)
Convulsions, muscle spasms, and/or loss of consciousness
Diagnosis and Treatment
Epilepsy is usually diagnosed after a person has had at least two seizures that were not caused by a known medical condition, such as diabetes.
Epilepsy is usually treated with anticonvulsant or antiepileptic drugs. Alternatively, implanting a vagus nerve stimulator, undergoing a neurosurgical operations, or going on the ketogenic diet can be helpful for some people. Unfortunately, approximately 30% of individuals diagnosed continue to have seizures despite the currently recommended treatment options.
Behavioral interventions and programs for epilepsy provide invaluable support. These approaches have been studied and used for many years. Some have been validated scientifically, while others are known for their anecdotal success at reducing the frequency and severity of seizures.
Known complementary treatment modalities are EEG feedback training, breathing education for the self-regulation of alveolar CO2, mindfulness and stress-reduction training, supplements, acupuncture, and aura disruption.
At the Rocky Mountain Center for Epilepsy, we specialize in providing supportive, complementary care.