Epilepsy: What is it and what do you do for it?

Every year on the 2nd Monday of February, is world epilepsy day.

This day was selected to raise awareness about Epilepsy.

Epilepsy is abnormal movement or level of awareness resulting from abnormal brain signals.

Terminology: Various terminology is used to refer to Epilepsy. These are seizure disorder, seizures, fits, Epileptic seizure.

An area of the brain that produces signal that is not normal can lead to excessive movement and loss of sensory awareness or unconsciousness.

The excessive movement manifests as seizures. This is an uncontrollable shaking, often accompanied with biting of tongue or with loss of bladder or bowel control. There is often confusion afterwards, where the person cannot recall what happened followed by sleep (post-ictal state).

Not all epilepsy results in loss of unconsciousness. Some epilepsy episodes may present with staring or unusual behavior.

What causes Epilepsy?

There are many causes of Epilepsy. It could be genetic, meaning there is a family history. It could be caused by conditions at the birth of a baby eg. hypoxia, cerebral palsy, neonatal infections or trauma.

It could appear in children from infection, inflammation, tumors and trauma. In addition, in adults, it could be seen from tumor, infection, inflammation, stroke or cerebrovascular disease.

In a child, a seizure occurring from fever is not epilepsy. This is a febrile seizure that does not develop into the diagnosis of epilepsy.

What are the do’s and don’ts for Epilepsy?

Driving and Seizure disorder

There are driving and riding rules that apply to people with Epilepsy. These rules vary according to location. Generally, a person who has a seizure disorder must be seizure-free for 6 months before he or she will be allowed to drive.

Other activities: A person with Epilepsy should not swim alone, or climb heights alone.

Staying healthy. Knowing what triggers a seizure

  • Keep a seizure journal, know the specific time of day or night of a seizure.
  • Here are some triggers of seizures: Sleep deprivation – overtired, not sleeping well, not getting enough sleep.  Fevers or other illnesses. Flashing bright lights or patterns. Alcohol or drug use. Stress. Associated with menstrual cycle (women) or other hormonal changes. Not eating well, low blood sugar.

  • Specific foods, excess caffeine or other products that may aggravate seizures. Use of certain medications

Care for Epilepsy: There is medication to prevent and control seizures. A Neurologist is a specialist who is trained to take care of people with Epilepsy.

In resource-limited healthcare settings, Epilepsy care is provided by the primary care or family doctor. A person with Epilepsy should be seen by a Neurologist or Primary care doctor on a regular basis. Frequency of follow up care visits should be determined by the Doctor.

What to do when someone has a seizure

Basic seizure first aid is all that may be needed.

Keep calm; Most seizures only last a few minutes.

Always stay with the person until the seizure is over.

Prevent injury by moving nearby objects out of the way


A person cannot swallow their tongue during a seizure, so DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN THE MOUTH OF A PERSON HAVING A SEIZURE.


Do not pour water on the person having a seizure.

Do not forcibly hold the person down. The person having a seizure can become agitated if held down. Allow the seizure to pass on its own.

Do not give water, pills, or food by mouth, unless the person is fully alert.

If a person is not fully awake or aware of what is going on, they might choke on the water, pills, or food.


If the person is lying down, gently turn them on their left side. Foaming at the mouth is caused by excess saliva mixing with air and by turning the person on their side this position will help the saliva drain out of the mouth.

If they are at risk of falling, call for help and lay them down on the floor.

Support the person’s head to prevent it from hitting the floor.

After a seizure the person may feel embarrassed or confused about what happened. Keep this in mind as the person wakes up.

Reassure the person that they are safe.

Once they are alert and able to communicate, tell them what happened in very simple terms.

Stay with the person until they feel better or call someone to stay with them.


Epilepsy or seizure disorder is a common condition that can happen to anyone. Be respectful. Be sensitive. Know what to do and what not to do.








Written and compiled by Dr. Ngozi Onuoha

Image credit: Epilepsy foundation.

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