Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Epilepsy Awareness Month | How to overcome and manage epilepsy

Published:Wednesday | November 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Epilepsy is one of the most prevalent neurological disorders in the world, with a significant number of Jamaicans suffering from the medical condition. Despite this fact, it remains shrouded in mystery, discriminated against and underfunded in research.

This year, during National Epilepsy Awareness Month which is observed every November, the Jamaican Epilepsy Association (JEA) is on a renewed mission to educate the public about the highly misunderstood condition, which affects a reported eight to 10 per cent of Jamaicans. The association will talk about how to go the distance towards a life with the best seizure control possible as well as how to overcome and manage epilepsy.

Executive director of the JEA, Joy McHugh, explained that National Epilepsy Month provides a great opportunity for the organisation to engage the public.

"Epilepsy is more than seizures. It is treatable, manageable and controllable," she stated.

She added that some of the common causes of epilepsy include brain injuries, chemical imbalances, strokes, brain tumours, and can begin at any age and to anyone.

During the month, the JEA will host a social-media campaign on Facebook, which will feature videos about epilepsy, posters, features of individuals living with epilepsy as well as tips on how to help someone having a seizure.

Additionally, select schools will wear purple on particular days of the month in a bid to raise funds, thus furthering JEA's outreach.

Tomorrow, the association will host its marquee event - a grand fundraising fish fry in the parking lot of Andrews Memorial Hospital. Orders will be placed during the month and collected on the day.




- Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by malfunctioning nerve cell activity in the brain. These malfunctions cause episodes called seizures.

- Over a lifetime, one in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy.

- Seizures can cause a range of symptoms, from momentarily staring blankly to loss of awareness and uncontrollable twitching. Some seizures can be milder than others, but even minor seizures can be dangerous if they occur during activities like swimming or driving.

- Seizures are sometimes called 'fits' or 'attacks'. Seizures happen when there is a sudden interruption in the way the brain normally works.

- There are over 40 different types of seizure. What seizures look like can vary. For example, someone may go 'blank' for a couple of seconds, they may wander around and be quite confused, or they may fall to the ground and shake (convulse). So not all seizures involve convulsions.

- Epilepsy can start at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed in people under 20 and people over 65. This is because some causes are more common in young people (such as difficulties at their birth, childhood infections or accidents) and in older people (such as strokes that lead to epilepsy). For some people, their epilepsy might 'go away' and they stop having seizures. This is called spontaneous remission.

- Epilepsy is usually treated with medication called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). AEDs aim to stop seizures from happening, but they do not cure epilepsy. With the right AEDs, up to 70 per cent of people with epilepsy could have their seizures controlled (stopped).

- For people who do not have their seizures controlled with AEDs, surgery may be an option. This can involve removing the part of their brain that causes the seizures.

- Epilepsy affects more people than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's combined - yet receives less funding per patient than each of these.

- Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) accounts for 34 per cent of all sudden deaths in children.

- In two-thirds of patients diagnosed with epilepsy, the cause is unknown.

- When the cause of epilepsy is determined, the four most common are head trauma, stroke, brain tumour, and brain infection. Other causes include drug effects or intoxication, genetics, metabolic disturbances. The causes may vary by age with genetic, congenital malformations or metabolic disturbances more common in young children, trauma and tumours more common in young adults, and stoke most common in older adults. The cause is 'unknown' in 60 to 70 per cent of cases.

- Symptoms and signs of epilepsy may vary from person to person, but are usually consistent and predictable for each individual. Examples of symptoms are loss of awareness, mental confusion, speech impairment, paresthesias (abnormal sensations such as numbness or tingling), olfactory, gustatory or visual hallucinations, and/or abdominal discomfort. Examples of external signs are mental confusion, staring, changes in muscle tone, muscle twitches or jerking movements, oral or manual automatic behaviour (automatisms), unsteadiness, and convulsions.

- Contributing factors to recurrent seizure or treatment failure include: poor adherence to medications or other therapies; sleep deprivation; active medical illness; major emotional stress; medication adjustments; fever related to flu or other sickness; substance abuse.