Epilepsy still a mystery illness of unknown causes

Posted 5/31/19

Epilepsy, and its widespread status throughout America, was the topic of discussion by the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee at Monday’s gathering of the Bradley County Interagency …

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Epilepsy still a mystery illness of unknown causes


Epilepsy, and its widespread status throughout America, was the topic of discussion by the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee at Monday’s gathering of the Bradley County Interagency Council.

Describing epilepsy as having a “storm in the brain,” Epilepsy Foundation Education Coordinator Angela Mininger explained to the council just how widespread epilepsy is.

“One in 100 people in America have epilepsy,” Mininger said. “One in 50 children have it and one in 26 people will develop it.”

These statistics translate to 2.2 million Americans with epilepsy, and over 150,000 new cases being diagnosed in the country each year.

Mininger goes around Chattanooga and its surrounding counties to perform epilepsy training and to spread epilepsy education. Since seizures can often be alarming to people who aren’t used to seeing them, educating yourself about seizures could help prevent injuries to yourself or someone experiencing a seizure in the future.

Seizures occur when there is a brief interruption of electrical activity in the brain. Injury to the brain, stroke, infection of the brain or genetics account for 30% of causes. Aside from these factors, the other 70% of cases are caused by unknown elements.

As the fourth most common brain disorder behind migraines, strokes and Alzheimer’s, epilepsy isn’t a rare ailment.

“There could be people in this very room who have it and may not know if they’ve not experienced having a seizure in the presence of someone else. There’s still a lot of fear and shame associated with epilepsy, so part of my job is helping reduce the stigma and fear surrounding it,” Mininger said.

Seizures are categorized into two different segments, including partial seizures and generalized seizures. Partial seizures include a simple partial, which includes jerking in one or more parts of the body or sensory distortions that may or may not be obvious to onlookers; and a complex partial, which involves random activity where the person is out of touch with his/her surroundings.

Four types of seizure fall under the generalized seizures category, these include absence, tonic clonic, atonic (drop attacks) and myoclonic. Absence, previously called petit mal, involves a blank stare lasting only a few seconds, sometimes accompanied by blinking or chewing motions. Tonic clonic involves convulsions, muscle rigidity and jerking. Atonic is a sudden collapse with recovery within a minute. Finally, myoclonic involves sudden, brief, massive jerks involving all or part of the body.

Mininger said most people who’ve never seen a seizure would be frightened and unsure of what to do. She stated just how embarrassing seizures can be for those who experience them, especially young people in school or at social events like proms, and it’s important to make them feel comfortable.

According to Mininger, epilepsy is being found in more and more cases to be linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Numerous things can trigger a seizure for those with epilepsy, including missed medication, stress and anxiety, dehydration, flashing lights and photosensitivity and even lack of sleep. Because of this, many parents who have children with epilepsy are reluctant for their children to go to sleepovers because there are numerous ways for their children to have a seizure away from them.

“Things that most people wouldn’t even think about could trigger a seizure for those with epilepsy like a movie, fireworks or even a fire alarm going off and blinking,” Mininger added.

For those who encounter a seizure, it’s important to not panic. Note the time when the seizure begins, direct the person away from hazards or remove objects that may present a danger. If the person is having a convulsive seizure, turn them on their side and cushion their head. Also, remove glasses and loosen tight clothing.

You must never put anything in their mouth, give them liquids or any medication or restrain them. Remain present until the person regains conscious awareness of their surroundings. If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, call 911.

There is one particular ailment relating to epilepsy that can be fatal. This is called Sudden Death in People with Epilepsy. This often happens when a person is asleep, and isn’t caused by injury, drowning or other known causes.

Epilepsy can be treated with a variety of options, including medication, surgery, a vagus nerve stimulation and adhering to a ketogenic diet.

“It’s always better to stay ahead of it, and know how to deal with a seizure. The goal of treatment for epilepsy is to help these people live a normal and healthy life. We strive to empower them to live the life they want to live,” Mininger said.

For more information about seizures and epilepsy in general, go to the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee’s website at www.epilepsy-setn.org or go to its Facebook or Instagram pages. The organization can be reached at 423-634-1772.


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