Few people are familiar with details regarding the serious condition referred to epilepsy or seizure disorder other than the things depicted in Hollywood movies. Sadly, an actual epilepsy related seizure has very few aspects in common with what you see on TV, because the motion pictures only present a glamorous version aimed to sensitize the public to the drama of a certain character.
This disorder can be described best by swift electrical discharges which disrupt the brain’s normal activity, modifying the patient’s behavior and perception. In order to understand the experience of an epileptic during a seizure, all you have to do is tense all your muscles simultaneously as hard as you can, over the point when you experience discomfort. Imagine if you will – don’t put this step into practice please – that in addition to the muscle cramps, your limbs and your head are also being bludgeoned with a concussive object. The strain of the muscles as well as the pain sensation makes the patient unable to stand on his feet during the seizure, but they also determine bizarre conducts because his perception of reality is altered. Now that you have a basic idea of what epilepsy implies, let’s find out a few less known facets of this condition.
1. Epilepsy seizures have 3 stages
The three stages of the manifestation of epilepsy are tonic (start), clonic (mid-stage) and postictal (ending). During the initial stage of the seizure, the patient generally experiences perception alterations, such as bizarre odors, strange sounds, unusual tastes in his mouth and a “déjà vu” sensation. The tonic phase is also associated with a feeling of lightheadedness, announcing the mid stage. The clonic phase can manifest as a grande mal – worst-case scenario – or only a basic, limited seizure. Throughout the postical phase, which has predetermined duration (a few seconds to a couple of hours) the brain begins to recover from the electrical shocks, but the patient typically experience disorientation and has a limited recollection of the seizure.
2. In the old B.C. days, epileptics were viewed as prophets
Due to the superstitious nature of the B.C. times, people interpreted the epileptic seizures as a message from the deity and held the patients suffering from this disorder in the highest regard. It is easy to see why the lack of understanding of the human body could generate such misconceptions, particularly if you consider the typical form of manifestation. At the opposite pole, certain societies considered that the epileptic was possessed by demons. Luckily, thanks to the brilliant mind of Hippocrates who first recognized that the “Sacred Illness” was nothing more than a brain disorder, all the mystical explanations for the seizures were discarded.
3. Every person has a seizure threshold
Virtually every person in the world can experience a seizure if the stimuli exceed a certain level, but every person’s threshold is different. Fortunately, for most people the seizure threshold is set sufficiently high as to withstand the common levels of stimuli in the environment. However, certain “triggers” (sleep deprivation, alcoholic beverages, other illnesses, hormonal imbalances, flickering lights, etc) are capable of downgrading the seizure threshold, making the body more vulnerable to seizures.
4. The roots of the condition are not elucidate 70% of the time
In 70% of the cases, the cause of epilepsy remains unknown and the diagnostic typically placed by the doctor is “idiopathic epilepsy”. However, statistics indicate that 1 out 20 patients have an excessive sensibility to flickering lights (stroboscopes) or suffer from photosensitivity.
5. You cannot really swallow your own tongue during a seizure
The misconception that during an epilepsy seizure the patient is capable of swallowing his own tongue has been blown out of proportions and the ones to blame are essentially Hollywood movie producers. If you cannot do it while you are not in a seizure, than the chances that you will be able to when all your muscles are tense – keep in mind that the tongue is the strongest one – are virtually null.
6. Epilepsy is not a lifelong condition in general
Less than a quarter of the patients who suffer from epilepsy will continue to have seizures throughout their entire lifetime. Because over time they learn how to exercise control over these manifestations (training or medication) and they can predict a seizure before the critical point, epileptics can act to prevent an aggravated situation. Moreover, lifelong epilepsy is typically due to additional preexisting disorders.
7. You should not put the movie treatment into practice in the event of a seizure
You don’t need to form a mob to hold down the epileptic during a seizure like in the movies as they generally do not develop superhuman strength. What you need to do is remove the potentially dangerous objects from the proximity of patient and block their path in order to stop them from wandering off. Once the seizure enters the final stage, arrange the patient on his side. Remember, never place anything in his mouth and call the paramedics in the event that the seizure’s clonic stage exceeds 5-10 minutes.
8. There is medication for prolonged/cluster seizures, but it’s not pleasant
The medication normally utilized to end long lasting seizures is diazepam or, alternatively, Diastat. However, the unpleasant aspect is that both of them are in gel form, which you need to insert directly into the rectum via a plastic applicator and that’s not an easy job during a seizure.
9. The early 20th century US legislation was harsh on epileptics
In the early days of the 20th century, doctors believed that epilepsy had hereditary roots and therefore, numerous states in America had passed legislation that forbids individuals suffering from this disorder to marry or have children. In fact, things were taken so far that sterilization was approved in certain regions.
10. Seizures with short durations don’t cause brain damage
Note that here we’re referring to mild clonic seizures and not cluster or prolonged variants of manifestation. While it was widely believed that there is a connection between the seizure and brain damage, more recent studies have disproved the theory. The misconception most likely comes from the head trauma that some patients suffer when the epilepsy seizure manifests suddenly.