Getting my epilepsy facts straight
Epilepsy is not an easy condition to deal with but here are the facts and some answered questions.
When we found out that our four-year-old daughter Ella had epilepsy, we obviously had many questions. I did some research and I discovered information that went a long way to allay my fears but also dispelled some misconceptions.

What is epilepsy?
It is a neurological condition characterised by recurrent seizures. It is important to know that epilepsy is not a psychological condition; it does not – as was believed in the old days – indicate a person of low intelligence or who has mental health problems.

Who can get it?
There are certain risk factors which may increase your chances for developing epilepsy, for example brain injury, brain abnormality or a family tendency, but in the majority of cases there is no known reason. Anyone can at any age develop epilepsy. There are about 60 million people worldwide who have epilepsy, and 1 in 100 South Africans.

When the paediatrician suspected that Ella had had an epileptic fit, he sent her to a neurologist for tests. One diagnostic tool is the EEG. During the EEG wires were attached to her scalp to record brain waves. The recorded brain waves showed a distinct pattern typical of epilepsy. To find out if there was an underlying cause for the seizure, an MRI scan was done. This test takes pictures of the brain and produces an image. It is important to find out whether or not there’s a structural abnormality, brain infection or injury as this would affect treatment options.

Types of epilepsy

There are different kinds of epilepsy and many different kinds of seizures. A seizure happens when there is a surge of electrical activity in the brain. When it comes to seizures and symptoms there is no one-size-fits-all. Each seizure is characterised by its own symptoms. In addition, one person’s symptoms may vary from another’s who has the same kind of seizures.

Can epilepsy be cured?
There are a number of anti-seizure medications available and the condition can be controlled with varying degrees of success. With the help of medication you may become seizure free for a number of years. You may even become completely seizure free after stopping the medication. If you still suffer from seizures despite being on medication, learning to avoid certain seizure-provoking factors can help. For example, a lack of sleep, missed medication, a lack of routine and stress have been identified as triggers.

How to help

Most people will feel helpless when witnessing someone having a seizure. Although different seizures may require different responses, there are general guidelines:
  • Stay with the person until the seizure is over.
  • Move nearby objects out of the way to ensure there’s nothing that could injure the person.
  • Use your watch to time the active seizure. Then time how long it takes for the person to recover and resume their normal activities.
  • Stay calm and be reassuring during and especially after the seizure. Bear in mind that some people may not want physical contact.
  • Make sure the person is comfortable. If possible, help them to sit down, or call for help and lay them down on the floor, on their side, with the mouth pointing down.
  • Do not put anything in their mouth! Forget about people swallowing their own tongue.
  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink unless they’re fully conscious and alert.
  • If the active seizure lasts longer than a few minutes, call for medical help.
  • And lastly, be sensitive and supportive. Don’t gawk and keep onlookers away.
For more information on epilepsy try and

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