Whilst I don't have the condition myself, a close member of my family does - so it's something that I've learnt to understand and deal with over the last few years. On the way home from a shopping trip on Sunday, a young girl with epilepsy asked for my help as she could feel the onset of a seizure. She did indeed have a seizure and luckily we'd managed to get her off the train and lay her out on the platform before it started - so she was out of harms way. This was the catalyst for writing this post.
For me, this situation wasn't particularly frightening as it's something I've experienced before - however I can understand for someone new to it, this could be. It was only when I was at home later in the evening that I recalled the faces of the other people on the train - that of panic, which I can only assume was down to the fear of not knowing what to do.
When I got home, I asked my Twitter followers whether they would have known what to do had that girl asked them for help. The general consensus was no. I decided that I'd write this post to provide a brief education on what exactly epilepsy is, but most importantly to provide some clarity on what should be done if a stranger, or someone you know has a seizure.
There are over 600,000 people with epilepsy in the UK. Around five in every 100 people will have an epileptic seizure at some time in their life. Given these statistics, the stigma that still surrounds this condition is pretty shameful.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition, the hallmark of which is recurrent, unprovoked seizures. These seizures are caused by too much electrical activity in the brain. How a person behaves during a seizure will depend upon the area of their brain that is affected, but the kind of seizure you're probably most used to seeing in the media is called a Tonic Clonic seizure (previously known as a Grand Mal).
Tonic Clonic seizures can be frightening to witness - I'll be the first to admit that. However just imagine how frightening it must be for the person having one. The girl I helped on Sunday was only in her early twenties and on her own - she was the same age as many of you. Imagine how frightened she must have been.
Being able to help is simple and much more straight forward than people typically think. The below is a guide on how to help and whilst it's not going to be applicable to every situation you may come across, it's a good start.
1) Protect the person from injury - lay them out somewhere safe away from any harmful objects.
2) Cushion their head.
3) Don't restrain the person's movements, or put anything in their mouth. (It's a common myth that you need to stop someone from swallowing their tongue but this isn't the case. It's actually impossible to swallow your own tongue).
4) Once the seizure has stopped, gently place them into the recovery position.
5) Don't give them anything to eat or drink until they have fully recovered.
6) Stay with them until recovery is complete - they will likely be sleepy or drowsy for a while. Talk to them, be calm and be reassuring - let them know they're going to be OK.
These are six, simple steps that should be fairly easy to remember. Whilst calling an ambulance isn't always essential when someone with epilepsy has a seizure, if you're in any doubt you should as they will be able to talk you through what to do.
If you've read this far, thank you. Hopefully if at least one person is able to take any of this onboard then they may be able to help in a situation or realise that epilepsy doesn't need to have the stigma attached to it that it does - that in itself is priceless.