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Around Our Town: Wyoming Medical Center

Increasing Knowledge about Epilepsy

11/01/2011 - By David B Wheeler, MD, PhD & Cathy Dufresne-Magee R.EEG T

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and the Wyoming Epilepsy Center at Wyoming Medical Center would like to help increase your understanding of this common medical problem. Epilepsy affects 1% of the population or about 5,000 people living in Wyoming. Almost 1-in-10 people will have at least one seizure in their lifetime. Enhancing awareness of epilepsy and seizures is therefore critical for the health of our community.

Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent seizures resulting from electrical discharges in the brain. Epilepsy, also known as a seizure disorder, may be treated with medication. Most people with epilepsy are well-controlled with medication and, with the help of their doctors, lead happy productive lives. If medications fail, sometimes surgery can be helpful.

Seizures may take many forms. Most people recognize convulsions that cause violent shaking and jerking of the whole body. However, seizures can cause many other symptoms as well. For example, a complex partial seizure will cause confusion, irrational behavior or isolated shaking of one part of the body. Epilepsy is not contagious and a seizure is not usually a medical emergency; unless it is the first seizure or the seizure lasts longer than five minutes. First Aid for seizures is easy:

Stay calm, assure the person they will be all right and you are there to help.

Never put anything in someone's mouth when they are seizing! It is impossible for them to swallow their tongue.

Help the person to their side so they do not choke on saliva or vomit.

Do not restrain them and always protect their head.

It is important to time how long the seizure lasts. Most seizures last less than two minutes after which they may slowly awaken or sleep quietly for a period of time. If a person continues seizing for more than five minutes or if there is more than one seizure within 20 minutes, call 911.

There are many different causes of epilepsy. One may be born with it or develop seizures after various injuries including meningitis, traumatic brain injury, brain tumor or stroke. Regardless of the cause, if the person has recurrent seizures, they have epilepsy. Many famous and successful have had epilepsy: Julius Caesar, President James Madison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Vincent van Gogh, Alan Faneca of the Pittsburgh Steelers and actor Danny Glover. With proper understanding and appropriate treatment, having epilepsy need not be a barrier to success.

Doctors who care for people with epilepsy always strive to achieve freedom from seizures with the fewest possible side effects. The physicians and health care professionals at Wyoming Epilepsy Center are specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of all kinds of seizures. For more information please contact us at 307-265-4343 or visit wyomingneurology.com/epilepsy_center.

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