Epilepsy: Not Just a Childhood Disorder

The Gist of It 

  • Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that can affect both children and adults with unprovoked seizures.
  • As long as you get adequate education and support from your family and friends, epilepsy need not destroy your life.
  • Epilepsy can be managed through anti-epileptic drug therapy.
Source: npr.org
Source: npr.org

Everyone knows what an epileptic fit looks like. The unprovoked seizures, the sudden loss of consciousness, the helplessness of it all.

Epilepsy Can Happen At Any Time

Epilepsy may be one of the world’s most recognised chronic neurological disorders – but many people still think it’s a childhood disease that refuses to go away. Actually, adults too can develop epilepsy despite never having suffered the disorder as children.

In children, epilepsy is commonly caused by physical trauma during childbirth, fever, head injuries, infection of the brain, lack of oxygen to the brain, hydrocephalus or disorders in brain development.

In adults, this neurological disorder can be caused by a past head injury or when “brain chemistry” is altered by, for example, alcoholism, strokes, heart attacks or even Alzheimer’s disease.

Adult-onset of epilepsy can often also be traced to a history of using antidepressants, exposure to lead or carbon monoxide and other chemicals, and can be precipitated by prolonged lack of sleep, stress and even hormonal changes.

However it is important to note that, even if you have had a head injury or used drugs at some point in your life, you will not necessarily develop epilepsy.

Each case is unique – with different triggers for epilepsy, while in some of these cases, the cause is unknown.

Source: epilepsy.com
Source: epilepsy.com

You Can Still Lead a Normal Life with Epilepsy

In the past, when someone is first diagnosed with epilepsy, the psychological and social consequences were tremendous. Conventional wisdom and even medical practices in the past had seen patients shunned, locked up in a mental home, barred from marrying or having children.

The public’s perception of epilepsy must change as patients can live relatively normal lives. Having epilepsy in the prime of your life means significant changes to your lifestyle but it is not the end of the world for you.

It is however crucial that sufferers get adequate education and support from family and friends or from dedicated support groups. They do not have to suffer in silence or endure the condition alone.

Effective treatment is available in the market and support groups exist to help improve the quality of life of sufferers.

Keeping Yourself Safe with Epilepsy

Many of us take personal safety in the environment around us for granted. This, however, become all the more important for people with epilepsy. They need to take extra precautions and these measures fall into two categories:

  • Protection against harm to the person having the seizure, directly resulting from falling or loss of consciousness
  • Protection against seizure-related accidents that may also harm other people

A person suffering from seizures will face dangers in many places and situations. However, injuries can be reduced with some simple changes in surroundings and in the way the epilepsy sufferer does things.

Seizures while driving or smoking can be disastrous – for not only the person with epilepsy but also for other people. Knowledge about when these activities are most dangerous will help with decisions about restrictions and precautions to help prevent accidents.

So, it is important to remember that safety measures for people with epilepsy should be planned not only to minimise injuries but also to maximise the person’s ability to perform the same activities as other people of the same age. A full and happy life will depend on it!

Available Treatment for Epilepsy

Source: davidsepilepsy.blogspot.com
Source: davidsepilepsy.blogspot.com

For someone with epilepsy looking to regain a normal life, the way forward would be to go on anti-epileptic drug (AED) therapy. AEDs can be arbitrarily categorised into first and second generation AEDs.

First Generation AEDs

First generation AEDs are usually prescribed as first line AEDs to patients with epilepsy who are treatment-naïve and are used to treat both generalised and partial seizures. Examples of these first-generation AEDs include phenytoin, phenobarbitone, carbamazepine, sodium valproate, clobazam and clonazepam.

The principal problem with the first-generation AEDs is their propensity to cause serious side effects – which include facial coarsening, weight gain, acne, swollen lymph nodes, drowsiness, loss of balance, osteomalacia (bone softening) and gum hyperplasia that, amongst others, could present obstacles to treatment.

Second Generation AEDs

The newer, second-generation AEDs, introduced in the market in the 1990s onwards, generally have seen fewer side-effects. They have been recorded as reducing seizure frequency and are known to control even the toughest seizures.

These medications, like lamotrigine, oxcarbazepine, topiramate, tiagabine, gabapetin and levetiracetam, are used when epilepsy patients do not respond to the first-generation AEDs.

Support for Epilepsy in Malaysia

When you or your loved one is diagnosed with epilepsy, it’s important to have the right support and education to help you understand the disorder.

The Malaysian Society of Epilepsy has a community of passionate people looking to improve the quality of life of those with epilepsy. You’ll meet other people with epilepsy and their family members as well as doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers who are working to help people with epilepsy.


How has epilepsy affected your life and how did you handle it? Share your experience with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!

Contributed by Prof. Dato’ Dr Raymond Azman Ali, Senior Consultant Neurologist

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