Epilepsy is a neurogical disorder that is affecting all ages. It is taking place in the central nervous system, more specifically in the brain, and is charactarized with spontenous and recurrent epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders. In fact, Canada counts 300 000 people living with epilepsy and there’s approximately 50 million in the entire world.
Epilepsy is not an illness (it can’t be transmitted) and is not a psychological disorder. Futhermore, having only one seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy : at least one person in ten will have a seizure during their lifetime.
Focal seizure starts in a precise area of the brain. They can be localized (staying in the same area during the seizure) or they can spread to another area.
Depending of the seizure, the person’s state of consciousness might alter (the person is not aware of their situation or their surrounding) or not. Futhermore, we can characterize the seizure of motor (changes in muscular activity) or non-motor (changes in emotions, behaviours, senses…).
Focal seizures regroup three types of epilepsy : focal seizures with retained awareness, focal seizures with a loss of awareness and tonic-clonic focal to bilateral seizure.
Generalized seizures happen all over the brain. In this category, the person has loss of awareness. The type of seizure is established by the presence or the absence of motor symptoms.
Generalized seizures regroup two types of epilepsy : tonic-clonic seizure and absence seizure.
Like the name says, unknown origin seizures occur in an unknown area of the brain. We can’t establish where the seizure comes from. The tonic-clonic seizure might be a type of unknown origin seizure.
A couple of types can be listed as focal, generalized or unknown origin. This is the reason why we don’t associate them to a category. This is the case of atonic seizures, tonic seizures, clonic seizures and myoclonic seizures.
Medication (anticonvulsants) helps approximately 65% of people with epilepsy to control their seizures, which mean to decrease the number of their seizures or to stop them completely. In 50% of the cases, epilepsy seizures stop completely. Even though, medication doesn’t heal epilepsy.
Anticonvulsants may have side effects, like drowsiness, weight gain or loss, dizziness, headaches, et cetera. It is important to discuss about the possible side effects with your doctor. Futhermore, there’s multiple types of anticonvulsants and each of them are different. One kind of anticonvulsant can work on someone and not work on another.
If a person with epilepsy decides to stop its medication, it needs to be approved by its doctor and to be under its doctor’s supervision.
When medication doesn’t work and when the life conditions are affected by the seizures (10% to 20% of epilepsy cases), surgery may be recommend. Before doing the surgery, the person with epilepsy will need to do a couple of tests and neurogical evaluation.
If medication doesn’t work and if the brain surgery is not an option, then the VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulation) might be considered. This little device is located inside the thorax and send electric signals to the brain through the left vagus nerve, a nerve located in the neck. Those electric impulses are sent by fixed intervals (five minutes) and can help to stop or decrease the frequency of seizures. This treatment work for 50% of epilepsy’s cases.
This type of treatment is usually use with children. It was sometime use by teenagers and adults. This treatment consists to change the child’s alimentation : he will eat a lot of food high in fats, but low in carbohydrates and proteins. However, this treatment need to be supervised carefully by a doctor because the children doesn’t receive all nutrients that they need : a few child will need to take supplements. Normally, the diet lasts two to three years.
With this diet, seizures have stopped for approximately the third of the children, and the frequency of the seizures has decrease for another third.
There is other treatments for epilepsy. Even though they’re not scientifically approved, a few epileptic people said these other treatments were effective for them. Among this treatments, there’s yoga, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, relaxation, meditation…
However, those treatments don’t replace the recognized treatments (medication, surgery, VNS and Ketogenic diet). Others treatments need to be complementary and need to be discussed with a doctor.
If the person is known to have epilepsy, the seizure has no complication or the seizure is predictable, you probably don’t need to call the ambulance. However, it is important to call it in the following situations :
Yes. However, there’s a few jobs that epileptic person can’t do for security reasons (like pilot). If your seizures are difficult to control and prevents you to keep a stable job, you can launch your own company or volunteer, for example.
Yes, but your seizures need to be controlled. The person with epilepsy need to wait 6 to 12 months after a seizure before driving again and need to wait for their doctor’s recommendation. Also, if you’re planning to go on a trip outside the province, you need to take information about the different regulations because they’re not the same as in Quebec.
Yes, epilepsy cause no problem with sports. Sport helps to decrease your stress, which is decreasing the chances to trigger a seizure. However, you need to be more careful with a few sports like scuba diving, swiming alone, parachute jump or escalation. They can be dangerous in a case that a seizure occurs at the same time.
Yes. However, a few anticonvulsants can be harmful for the foetus. It is important to get information from a healthcare professional so they can change your medication if needed. Moreover, the baby has more chances than another one to have epilepsy (6% comparatively to 1-2%)
Alliance canadienne de l’épilepsie. (s.d.). “À propos de l’épilepsie'” (site web).
Edmonton Epilepsy Association. (2020). “Living with epilepsy”. Epilepsy Education Series.
Épilepsie Section Québec. (2021). “Journal de crises : 0-17 en trois temps (6-11 ans)”.
Épilepsie Section Québec. (2022). “Qu’est-ce que l’épilepsie ?'”(site web).