8 myths and facts about epilepsy

Epilepsy is a very complex chronic disease that is often associated with some social stigma. Due to its high prevalence, general knowledge of the characteristics of this pathology is important in order to avoid some discriminative behaviors.

We have put together the following article to give you the truth about some of the most controversial topics about epilepsy. Keep reading!

What is an epileptic seizure and what factors can generate it?

This kind of crisis are characterized by a state of neuronal hyperactivity that can be transmitted throughout the entire nervous system. This usually originates from a specific point in the cerebral cortex, from which a powerful electrical impulse develops.

Seizures can occur in isolation, as a consequence of metabolic, hormonal and infectious disorders, among others. However, when treated, they do not usually recur in the future.

Epilepsy is a chronic disease in which patients are more prone to seizures and usually there is no definite origin. There are some triggers for these crises, such as the following:

  • Abrupt discontinuation of anticonvulsant treatment.
  • Constant stress
  • Alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Not resting properly.

Epilepsy involves a synchronous and disorganized firing of neurons.

8 myths and facts about epilepsy

This disease has a long history of discrimination and fear on the part of the general population. Many centuries ago it was thought that it was a divine punishment and that it could be infected.

Today, although many of these misconceptions about the condition have been eliminated, those affected are still susceptible to social problems. Below you will find a list of 8 important aspects about the disease that are worth knowing.

1. Is it contagious?

No. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), epilepsy is a non-contagious chronic disease. Therefore, it is possible to hug, kiss and have sex with a person with epilepsy, as there is no way to transmit it.

There are many theories that explain the origin of the disease and it depends on the type of syndrome that is being considered. However, several are of unknown origin or are related to specific genetic mutations.

2. Does it cause infertility?

Many patients with epilepsy, both men and women, have some degree of sexual and reproductive dysfunction. The causes are multiple and sometimes it occurs due to the simultaneous presence of other pathologies, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Ovarian disease tends to decrease fertility to some degree. The incidence of this disease is higher in patients with epilepsy, although this could be a consequence of treatment with valproic acid, according to review articles on the matter.

In the case of women, the interaction between some antiepileptic drugs with oral contraceptives is well known. This can lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of either of the two medications, making it possible to increase the frequency of seizures.

There are certain studies that state that sperm quality can be decreased in a significant proportion of patients with epilepsy. Reduction in the total number of sperm it is one of the most frequent alterations, known as oligospermia.

In conclusion, epilepsy and its treatment can influence the fertility of a group of patients. However, this does not mean that most are infertile.

3. Can it be inherited?

In most cases, the answer is no. According to a publication of the Andalusian Association of Patients with Epilepsy, this disease is associated with very few genetic syndromes. One of them is neurofibromatosis, characterized by the appearance of tumors in the nervous system.

In fact, these types of conditions with the ability to be transmitted to offspring usually lead to other symptoms, with the appearance of seizures being part of the problem, but not the whole. An easy way to detect neurofibromatosis is by the presence of brown, café-au-lait spots all over the body.

According to a scientific review work, there are other diseases characterized by specific genetic mutations. Some examples are Dravet syndrome, atypical Rett syndrome, and Ohtahara syndrome. They are very rare conditions and also have the ability to be transmitted to offspring.

Find out more: Learning about genetic mutations

4. Are there additional psychiatric symptoms?

It depends a lot on the disease under consideration. Epilepsy is the term by which a group of disorders is known, and each of them has particular clinical characteristics.

Many patients with epilepsy may be very well from a psychiatric point of view, but a small proportion of them are prone to other conditions. According to articles, 58% of epileptics suffer from depression. This may be related to sociocultural factors that influence the perception of the disease.

Agoraphobia, anxiety disorders, and the presence of psychosis can also be seen in a minority of people.

5. Is it incurable?

Most of the epileptic syndromes described to date have no cure. This is due to the complex mechanisms by which seizures occur, which involve diverse genetic and molecular aspects.

However, treatment with anticonvulsant drugs is quite effective in most patients. Some of the best known are valproic acid, carbamazepine, and lamotrigine. Each of them has a different safety profile, so patients require constant evaluation by a neurologist.

Some syndromes are almost exclusively confined to childhood and adolescence. Such is the case of rolandic epilepsy, whose prognosis is excellent and often does not require medical treatment. This is due to the type of seizures that characterize it, which usually do not involve loss of consciousness.

Find out more: Anticonvulsants

6. Is it possible for a crisis to occur at any time?

In theory, yes. However, when a patient receives effective antiepileptic treatment, the incidence is greatly decreased. Many can go years and even go the rest of their lives without having a new seizure.

However, taking into account the triggers mentioned at the beginning of the article, part of the medical treatment is to avoid them through a healthy lifestyle. Most neurologists recommend balanced diets, proper mental hygiene, and constant exercise.

7. Can patients drive?

Taking into account what is mentioned in the previous section, it is recommended that patients with epilepsy do not drive. This, in fact, is established in the regulations of many countries.

However, there are some situations under which it is possible to obtain a provisional driving license. This usually requires a medical report from the neurologist in charge stating that the disease has been under control for several years and that, if the recommendations are followed, it is unlikely that a seizure will occur.

Driving a car, especially in young people, can become problematic if you live a social life with alcohol and drug use. Under these conditions, the risk of suffering a crisis capable of causing accidents increases considerably.

Most countries have laws that prohibit handling by epileptic patients because of the risk that this represents.

8. Can patients work?

Yes. Unless treatment is not received or it is a refractory condition, epilepsy patients are able to work like anyone else. Many countries have anti-discrimination laws that reduce the possibility that those affected will not be hired.

However, it is advisable to avoid high-risk jobs (for example, constructions at a high height) due to the possibility of suffering an occupational accident.

The problem of discrimination

Epilepsy is a condition that, with treatment, can go unnoticed in most cases. Knowledge of the pathology by the general population improves the quality of life of patients by reducing some discriminatory behaviors, whether they are carried out consciously or not.