A number of myths about seizures are popular, even among educated people. It is important to clear up these misperceptions because believing them and, most importantly, acting on those beliefs, can be emotionally painful and in some cases physically dangerous to a person.
1. A person who is having a seizure is not dying or crazy.
Seizures themselves do not cause a person to die. Things can happen during a seizure that put a person at risk of injury or death. It is important to understand the difference between these things and not to perpetuate myths about epipepsy and seizures. Many people with epilepsy take medication to control their seizures. Some people perceive in advance that they are about to have a seizure, and they are able to remain safe by avoiding dangerous situations. People who have epilepsy need for others to understand these things and to become acquainted with them, hire them when they are qualified for jobs, etc.
If people have seizures in places such as bathtubs, swimming pools, or while driving, they can be injured or die during the seizure.
2. People with epilepsy are not violent.
Some seizures, called psychomotor seizures, cause people to perceive things abnormally and behave in unusual ways. However, when the person is not having the seizure, the person is intelligent and able to think and behave normally. Partial seizures are sometimes difficult to control. It is important to understand that a person having a seizure is not aware of their behavior but does understand their condition and has personal feelings about it.
3. A person cannot swallow their tongue during a seizure.
Do not put things in the person’s mouth in an attempt to prevent swallowing the tongue. You could be injured if the person experiences involuntary movements while you are trying to save them from something that will not happen.
If the person has had a seizure while eating and you are concerned that they will choke, call 911 immediately. You will be coached regarding what to do.
4. Stress does not cause seizures.
The relationship of stress and seizures is complex. A person who has epilepsy may be more likely to have seizures while in a heightened state of stress due to chemical changes in the body; but it is important for everyone in the family to understand that stress is something that a person can learn to cope with. It is not necessary to hide stressful pieces of information from your family member with epilepsy or prohibit her from engaging in normally stressful activities. In fact, the emotional stress that occurs because of these behaviors can be as difficult to cope with as the effects of normal life.
5. A diagnosis of “nonepileptic seizures” does not automatically imply that a person was abused or has psychosomatic illness, even if a doctor thinks so.
Doctors diagnose nonepileptic seizures based on an absence of activity on an EEG. While they most often assume that these seizures are psychogenic in origin, this diagnosis is often made without proper psychiatric testing and without ruling out other medical conditions that can mimic epilepsy. It can be very helpful to receive psychotherapy. However, if you feel that your problem is medical, continue to seek treatment elsewhere if necessary.