Epilepsy and daily life: our advice
Published 10 Feb 2020 • By Louise Bollecker
Epilepsy has a big impact on daily life. The illness touches on important areas of life, like relationships, physical activity, work and leisure.
Why should you take precautions?
Some patients can feel an epileptic seizure coming on (irritability, headaches, butterflies in the stomach...). These warning signs of an impending seizure are called an "aura". However, in a lot of patients, a seizure can hit without any warning. For some individuals, the seizure is almost imperceptible, while others may need to be hospitalised.
Managing risks to live a normal life
Some patients, especially those who seizures are not controlled, run a serious risk of injuring themselves. However, even though avoiding unnecessary risks is important, an epileptic patient should not place too many limits on their activities.
Studies show that only 1% of epileptic seizures cause injuries. As long as the potential risks are taken into account, any activity can be made safer and people with epilepsy can live a full and active life. An epilepsy diagnosis doesn't mean confining oneself to safe spaces. It is more than possible to live a normal life with epilepsy.
Equipping your home
With a few accommodations and by adopting good practices, it can be easy for epilepsy patients to stay safe at home. For example, a shower is safer than a bath; however, if you do want to take a bath, don't overfill the tub, don't lock the bathroom door and let someone else know what you're doing. For those who suffer from frequent falls due to their seizures, they may want to wear a helmet. For patients living alone, they may find it useful to install a fall alarm.
Epilepsy and alcohol
Moderate alcohol consumption doesn't raise the number of seizures or worsen their intensity. Alcohol, in general, does not have negative interreactions with antiepileptic medications. However, excessive alcohol consumption followed by a period of abstinence can provoke seizures and even a status epilepticus, a serious complication.
Alcoholism or chronic alcohol abuse is linked to developing epilepsy in some people. For example, people who develop epileptic seizures because of excessive alcohol use may then continue to have seizures even if they stop drinking.
Alcohol and antiepileptic drugs
Antiepileptic drugs can drastically reduce alcohol tolerance, which magnifies the effects of any alcohol a patient may consume. Similarly, the rate of alcohol intoxication is much higher among people who take antiepileptic drugs. Dizziness, blackouts, and headaches are possible side effects of some epilepsy treatments. Combined with the effects of alcohol, which are similar, the results can be very dangerous and damaging to patient health. Because of this, patients are strongly advised to limit alcohol consumption (no more than two glasses) when taking certain antiepileptic medications.
If in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist!
Sports and epilepsy
Athletic activity is beneficial for those who suffer from epileptic seizures since participation in sports helps improve cognitive capacities and helps the patient to recognise both their strong points and their limitations. Athletic activities like gymnastics are equally beneficial because they improve coordination, and a patient that has achieved high levels of physical coordination tends to suffer fewer and less violent seizures.
Look before you leap
A neurologist and a sports medicine physician can advise an epileptic patient on what athletic activities are best for them. After getting a medical checkup, and before embarking on any sort of athletic activity, a patient should be conscious of the following:
- - Cardiac, pulmonary and kidney functions increase during athletic activity and the water-salt balance in the bloodstream is altered due to sweating and the high consumption of calories, fats and proteins. It's important to keep the plasma concentration as stable as possible so as to not alter the plasma concentration of active ingredients absorbed from treatments.
- - Sugar concentrations should be keep under control; when practising athletics, the risk of hypoglycaemia is higher.
- - Shifts in epileptic syndrome phase balance are also caused by repeated muscle motions from physical exercise.
Sports that aren't recommended:
- - Running, obstacle courses, bungee jumping, etc. All of these rough sports activities cause the muscles to dilate and contract rapidly (this can bring on an epileptic seizure).
- - Tennis and squash: The vibrations caused by the ball in the hands and feet are not recommended for epileptic patients.
- - Swimming: besides the rapid dilation and contraction of muscles, the temperature difference between the air and water should also be taken into account. An epileptic patient should be careful to enter the water slowly to avoid thermic shock.
- - Sports that require head rotation (discus, javelin, shot put, etc.) are also not recommended for epileptic patients.
Epilepsy and work
Working helps with socialisation, motor coordination and increasing cognitive capacities. However, it is a bad idea to impose a career on an epileptic patient, and the patient should feel free to choose the type of work that best corresponds to their abilities.
Precautions to take when choosing a career
Avoiding too much noise, and the presence of changing or flashing lights is important. Some people with epilepsy should also be aware of involuntary movements (a consequence of their medication) that could make certain professions more dangerous for them: working at great heights alone, driving a vehicle, etc.
Jobs that require physical exertion should also be approached with caution. The same precautions apply as with athletic activity.
What should you do if you sense a seizure coming on at work?
A patient should stop working if they experience an aura (warning signs) because the brain is likely "overheating" and an epileptic seizure is probably coming on. If the patient can reduce the symptoms of an aura, they can go back to work the next day. If the same symptoms appear every time a patient does the same type of work, they need to change their activity.
Should you talk to your employer about your condition?
Even though a person with epilepsy doesn't have to reveal their condition to their employer, sometimes it's better to inform them, as well as the people they work with directly, in order to let them know how to react should the patient have a seizure at work.