Epilepsy Education

Living with Epilepsy

Although there are always exceptions, people with epilepsy who are otherwise in good health and whose mental abilities are unaffected can usually continue to live independently. Families may find this idea difficult to accept. With the best of intentions, they often become overprotective, making an older relative more dependent than is necessary.

Of course, there are risks associated with seizures when people live alone. Making certain changes in the home can reduce the risk of injury. For example, living in a house or apartment which does not have stairs reduces the risk of injury from falls; carpeted floors provide a softer surface.

Fire, heat, and water are hazards for people who have seizures. Use caution when cooking by using the back burners. No swimming or bathing in a bath tub without supervision unless cleared by your neurologist. Jobs and hobbies may need to be limited to those that are not dangerous to the person if he or she suddenly loses awareness. Contact sports should be avoided to prevent trauma that could cause a seizure.

Examples of activities and sports that should be avoided or supervised include:

  • Swimming
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Contact sports
  • Sailing
  • Riding a motorcycle
  • Mountain climbing
  • Flying an airplane
  • Skydiving

Many activities, such as jogging and tennis, are safe for individuals with seizures. General moderate exercise does not increase your risk for seizures. There is not an increased risk of seizures associated with sexual activity.

What provokes a seizure?

There are many things that can cause increased risk of seizures in people that are prone to seizures. People with epilepsy should not drink alcoholic beverages or do illicit drugs. Doing so will increase the risk of seizures significantly. Many people with epilepsy have identified certain things that seem to increase the number or severity of their seizures. Sometimes these connections are just coincidences, but in many cases a link has been proven between these factors (also called triggers) and the occurrence of seizures.
Examples of typical seizure triggers include: lack of sleep, skipping a meal, or increased stress.

Can I still drive?

People who have recently had a seizure or are having active seizures should not drive. However, people with epilepsy whose seizures are fully controlled with medication can qualify to drive. With close follow-up with a neurologist, you can often drive after being seizure-free for a period of time. The physician will work with you to help you drive as soon as your seizures are controlled and there is no risk of losing consciousness from seizures.

If driving is not an option, alternatives such as using public transportation, signing-up with local services for the elderly or disabled, or even moving to an apartment complex or community that has its own transportation may be among the alternatives.

Women with Seizures

Women with seizures and on seizure medication can get pregnant. However, certain medications can cause harm to an unborn child. There are many medications that are safe and supplements can be taken to decrease the risk of certain birth complications associated with epilepsy medication. The neurologist should be made aware of any upcoming planned pregnancy. The doctor will work with your obstetrician to provide individualized counseling or make changes to current medications.

Is there anyone I can talk to?

There are many resources for people that have epilepsy. Having seizures often may result in a few life changes. The feeling of losing independence and the fear of having seizures may cause new stress. There are resources at Hoag Hospital and in Orange County to meet others that have been through similar situations. The Hoag Epilepsy support group meets the first Wednesday of every month from 7-8 p.m. in the Hoag Cancer Center. Patients, friends, and family are welcome to join group discussion to help better understand and cope with epilepsy. The Hoag Epilepsy Program is also available to answer general questions about epilepsy and referral resources. The Epilepsy Alliance of Orange County offers classes every month for education on seizures and seizure safety.