Epilepsy is an alarming disorder of the brain that generally leads to violent seizures. These events are often brief in duration, but can cause a number of associated problems for those they affect. To begin with, the hallmark of this condition is an increase in the firing of neurons in the brain, to the tune of up to about 500 per second during a seizure. In many cases, patients also suffer from lesser occurrences of increased brain activity, but simply don’t realize the frequency of these events since there are no noticeable symptoms to accompany them. And while the seizure is, of course, the most notable sign of the disease, there are a number of other physical effects that may go along with the disorder.
1. Brain damage. Although most people assume that brain damage is a natural side effect of epilepsy, this is rarely true. Only in the most severe cases, where victims suffer from massive or lengthy seizures or closely repeated attacks does brain damage tend to occur.
2. Amnesia. Memory loss during a seizure is not uncommon, since patients often fall unconscious. However, they may also have trouble remembering events immediately before or after the seizure, as well as displaying a marked inability to process new information for a short period of time after the fact. This does not occur in every patient or after every seizure and it usually corrects itself with time. More severe memory loss may take place in the event that several attacks occur in succession, thereby damaging brain tissue in the hippocampus or other areas of the brain and leading to temporary loss of verbal, visual, or short-term memory. Often these symptoms can be corrected with medication, memory games, or simply a little healing time.
3. Asphyxia/choking. This is a very real threat for those who suffer from epilepsy since fluids and other objects in the mouth can easily be inhaled or become lodged in the windpipe. If you are with someone who suffers an epileptic attack, simply wait until spasms have subsided, then attempt to ascertain if CPR is required.
4. Bodily trauma. The environment generally causes the most potential for harm to a person in the throes of a seizure. Since they often lose control of their muscles and black out, it is no surprise that falls are the main cause of physical trauma. Falling and thrashing can cause an array of bodily damage in the form of concussion, bruising, cuts, scrapes, and broken bones. While it is not necessarily advisable to restrain someone who is having a seizure (since this can cause additional harm to them or you), you should definitely try to ease them into a prone position in a clear area with something soft (like a pillow or jacket) under their head to help avoid injury.
5. Death. Epileptic seizures, in and of themselves, rarely result in death. Only extreme or multiple attacks will lead to this outcome. The occurrence of death amongst epilepsy sufferers is more commonly due to environmental factors, such as falling and hitting the head or operating machinery, as with driving.