Go purple for epilepsy awareness

Every March 26th – the annual date of Purple Day – people in countries around the world wear purple and hold purple-related events in support of epilepsy awareness.

According to the organisers of Purple Day, 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide, and it’s estimated that one in 100 have the condition – though in 50 per cent of cases the cause is unknown.

Epilepsy usually starts either in childhood or in people aged 60 and older – but it can start at any age. It’s a condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures. These seizures affect how the brain works temporarily, and can cause a wide range of symptoms. Depending on which part of the brain is affected, the symptoms can include the following:

  • Fits (uncontrollable shaking and jerking)
  • Losing awareness
  • Becoming stiff
  • Collapsing
  • Tingling in the arms or legs and other sensations such as usual tastes or smells, or a ‘rising’ feeling in the stomach.

Some people with epilepsy gradually get better over time. But for others it’s a lifelong condition. However if you’re affected it doesn’t mean you can’t live normally, as long as your seizures are well controlled.

Children with epilepsy are mostly able to go to mainstream schools and take part in most school activities. But when it comes to work, adults with epilepsy may not be able to do certain jobs, such as driving for a living. Most people with epilepsy can take part in sports and other leisure activities, but if your seizures aren’t well controlled you may have to avoid things such as swimming and water sports.

How is it treated?

One of the important things you should do to keep your seizures under control is to take your medicine as your doctor has advised. The most common treatments are anti-epileptic medicines (according to the NHS these help control seizures in about 70 per cent of people).

Other treatments include surgery to remove part of your brain that’s causing your seizures – not everyone is suitable for this type of surgery and it may only be considered if you’ve been taking anti-epileptic medicines and they haven’t been controlling your seizures.

Other procedures for epilepsy include inserting a device similar to a pacemaker under your skin. This device changes the electrical signals in the brain, which is thought to help control seizures (though it won’t usually stop them altogether).

Another treatment is to eat a diet high in fats and low in carbohydrates and protein, known as a ketogenic diet. This used to be one of the main treatments for epilepsy, but since anti-epilepsy drugs were introduced it’s no longer widely used.

Lifestyle help

As well as taking your medicines as advised by your doctor there are some lifestyle-related changes you can make to help keep your seizures under control. Finding out what your triggers might be for a seizure can be helpful, as once you know them you can avoid them. Triggers may, for instance, include stress, not sleeping well and drinking too much alcohol. To find out what your triggers may be, try keeping a diary of when you have seizures and what you were doing or feeling before they start.

Find out more at www.epilepsy.org.uk and at www.epilepsysociety.org.uk.