What you should know this International Epilepsy Day

Every year on the second Monday of February, people from around the world celebrate International Epilepsy Day, an event that aims to promote awareness of the condition around the globe. This year, International Epilepsy Day takes place on February 11, 2019.

According to the event’s organisers, this is a day for everyone, no matter where you are, no matter how small your group or large your area, and no matter whether you focus on the medical or the social aspects of epilepsy. All you have to do to help get the epilepsy awareness message out to the public is share your story on social media using the hashtag #epilepsyday.

What is epilepsy?

The word epilepsy is derived from a Greek word that means to be seized or overwhelmed by surprised. There are an estimated 65 million people around the world affected by epilepsy, say the organisers of International Epilepsy Day. But what is it exactly and how does it affect you?

According to the NHS epilepsy can start at any age, but usually starts either in childhood or in people aged 60 and older. It’s a condition that affects the brain, causing recurring seizures. The seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that affect how it works temporarily, causing a range of symptoms including:

  • Fits (uncontrollable shaking and jerking)
  • Losing consciousness/collapsing
  • Becoming stiff
  • Breathing difficulties

These are all symptoms of a type of seizure called a tonic-clonic seizure. These symptoms usually stop after a few minutes, though they may last longer, and afterwards you may not remember what happened.

Another type of seizure is called a simple partial seizure, sometimes called an aura, which can cause things like tingling in your arms and legs and a general strange feeling, or feeling of intense fear or joy – all while you’re awake and aware of what’s happening. These can also be signs that you’re about to have a tonic-clonic seizure.

Other types of seizures include complex partial seizures where you lose your sense of awareness and make random body movements, and absence seizures, which can make you stare blankly into space for 15 seconds or so, often several times a day.

Some people with epilepsy slowly 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 a normal life, as long as your seizures are well controlled.

Epilepsy treatments

The most common treatments for epilepsy are anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), which the NHS suggests help control seizures in about 70 per cent of people with epilepsy.

Other treatments include the following:

  • Brain surgery
  • Vagus nerve stimulation (this involves placing a small electrical device under the skin)
  • Diet (called the ketogenic diet, this is high in fats and low in carbohydrates and protein)

There are also steps you can take yourself to control your seizures. For instance, you could try to find out if anything is causing your seizures by keeping a seizure diary.

According to the NHS, some people with epilepsy – but not all – have things that trigger their seizures, such as stress, lack of sleep and alcohol. Keeping a diary of when you have seizures and what you were doing beforehand could help you identify if your seizures have any triggers. If you do have seizure triggers, you may be able to take steps to avoid them as much as possible.

There’s lots more information on living with epilepsy on NHS Choices.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also give you lots of tips to help you manage your epilepsy and give you advice about your medicines if you’re taking AEDs. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.