Common Myths and Misunderstandings about Epilepsy

Common Myths and Misunderstandings about Epilepsy

Even though medical progress has come a long way, the myths and misconceptions of the past still pose a major problem.

Some popular myths:

Myth #1 – Epilepsy is contagious.

You cannot catch epilepsy from another person!

Myth #2 – You can swallow your tongue during a seizure. 

It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue.  In fact, you should never force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure.  That is a good way to chip teeth, puncture gums, or even break someone’s jaw.

Myth #3 – People with epilepsy are disabled and are unable to work.

People with epilepsy have the same range of abilities and intelligence as anyone else.  Some have severe seizures and cannot work; others are successful and productive in challenging careers.  People with seizure disorders are found in all lifestyles and at all levels of business, government, the arts, and the professions.

Myth #4 People with epilepsy look different.

Someone with epilepsy is actually having a seizure there is no way that his or her condition can be recognized.

Myth #5 Epilepsy is a form of mental illness

Epilepsy is an umbrella term covering about twenty different types of seizure disorders.  It is a functional, physical problem, not a mental one.

Myth #6With today’s medication, epilepsy is largely a solved problem

Epilepsy is a chronic medical problem that for many people can be successfully treated.  Unfortunately, treatment does not work for everyone and there is a critical need for more research.

The truth is that epilepsy is a very common disorder.  Epilepsy can happen to anybody at any time.  In the vast majority of cases, epilepsy should not stop someone from living healthy, productive life.  It is too often people’s misconceptions about epilepsy create the disability, not epilepsy itself.  Many features of seizures and their immediate aftereffects can be easily misunderstood as “crazy” or “violent” behavior.

Unfortunately, police officers and even medical personnel may confuse seizure-related behaviors with other problems.  However, these behaviors merely represent semiconscious or confused actions resulting from the seizure.  During seizures, some people may not respond to questions, may speak gibberish, undress, repeat a word or phrase, crumple important papers, or may appear frightened and scream.  Some are confused immediately after a seizure, and if they are restrained or prevented from moving about, they can become agitated and combative.  Some people are able to respond to questions and carry on a conversation fairly well, but several hours later, they cannot remember the conversation at all.

Epilepsy is perfectly compatible with a normal, happy, and full life.  The person’s quality of life, however, may be affected by the frequency and severity of the seizures, the effects of medications, reactions of onlookers to seizures, and other disorders that are often associated with or caused by epilepsy.

Some types of epilepsy are harder to control than other types of epilepsy.  Living successfully with epilepsy requires a positive outlook, a supportive environment, and good medical care.  Coping with the reaction of other people to the disorder can be the most difficult part of living with epilepsy.

Acquiring a positive outlook may be easier said than done, especially for those who have grown up with insecurity and fear.  Instilling a strong sense of self-esteem in children is important.  Many children with long-term, ongoing illnesses—not only epilepsy but also disorders such as asthma or diabetes—have low self-esteem.  This may be caused in part by the reactions of others and in part by parental concern, which fosters dependence and insecurity.  Children develop strong self-esteem and independence through praise for their accomplishments and emphasis on their potential abilities.