Today is International Epilepsy Day (every second Monday in February) – a good time to educate ourselves and support people with the condition and encourage people with epilepsy to live to their fullest potential.

Despite being one of the world's oldest known medical conditions, many people who don't know better think that epilepsy has something to do with witchcraft. This is completely untrue and there is no reason to fear it.

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition that affects roughly one in 100 people. Anybody can be affected, no matter what their gender, race, age, nationality or social standing. People who are epileptic suffer seizures (also called convulsions or fits) of varying frequency, depending on the nature of their condition. Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical impulses in the brain, which could be the result of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, an injury to the head, infection or even a birth defect or trauma.

Seizures can take various forms:

Generalised absence seizures: The person looks blank and stares for a few seconds, or may blink or twitch.
Generalised tonic-clonic seizures: These start with staring, stiffening of the body, jerking movements and possibly blueish skin around the mouth. The person usually loses consciousness for a few minutes.
Partial complex seizures: The person appears confused or distracted, and may keep repeating movements such as plucking at clothes.

Not everyone who has a convulsion has epilepsy. Some seizures can be caused by an injury to the head or a very high fever. The doctor will consider this before deciding whether a seizure is caused by epilepsy. Blood tests, an EEG (that measures electrical impulses in the brain) and sometimes a CT scan (to check for injury) may be done to help with diagnosis.

Most people with epilepsy can control it very well with the right medication. Various types of epilepsy medication are available. It sometimes takes a while to find the right medicine and dosage, because not everyone reacts in the same way. As with other health conditions, people with epilepsy need to take their medication regularly and as directed by their healthcare workers. They need to continue to take it even when they feel fine.

Don’t panic! Use something soft to protect their heads. Let the person lie on the recovery position (top leg bent, bottom arm slightly extended). Remove spectacles and loosen tight clothing. Never put anything into the mouth, or try restraining their movements. Don’t call an ambulance unless the seizure lasts more than 6 minutes or they keep on having repeated seizures. When they regain consciousness, allow them to rest until recovered.

Do your bit to dispell myths that have arisen out of ignorance: Some common myths that are absolutely not true are:
• Epilepsy is caused by witchcraft or demons.
• Epileptic people are prone to violent behaviour.
• Epileptic people are not as clever as other people.
• Epileptic people cannot attend school or work.
• A person can swallow their tongue during a seizure.
• The seizure will end sooner if you try to stop the person’s movements.


South African cricketing legend, Jonty Rhodes, says "I was about six years old when my family realised something was 'wrong'. I kept falling about and getting knocked out. Eventually, after several tests, I was identified as having epilepsy, and made aware of the various precautions I should take (such as not playing rugby as my type of epilepsy is triggered by head injury). 

You can imagine how challenging this was at Maritzburg College, where every boy played rugby unless there was something 'wrong' with them! I also had to be careful when playing hockey, and back in 1982, I was the only child on the cricket field wearing a helmet! Being teachers, my parents have always been practically minded. They never saw my epilepsy as a 'disease' and in fact, they encouraged me to live life as normally as possible. They encouraged me to participate in sport and not to give up on my dreams."

Rapper, Lil Wayne has suffered from seizures since he was little. Weezy has had multiple health scares and has been hospitalised on many occasions as a result. That hasn’t stopped the Grammy award winner from becoming one of the best rappers of all time.

One of South Africa's most gifted musos, Vusi “The Voice” Mahlasela, spent much of his childhood in hospitals. "I suffered from severe epilepsy until I was 28. One day, I simply told myself to accept it and treat the condition as though it was a friend. When I did, it felt like a miracle." 

Actor, Danny Glover, struggled with epilepsy and had his first seizure at the age of 15. Like many people with epilepsy, he outgrew the disorder. Danny says the most helpful thing was educating himself and being able to recognize the warning signs that a seizure was coming. He said “Eventually, I could recognise it happening … Each time I got a bit stronger and the symptoms began to diminish to the point where I was ready to go on stage.”

If you live with someone who has epilepsy, ask your doctor to explain everything about the condition to you, so you can be informed on the facts and do your bit to support them.

Epilepsy SA National Office 0860374537,

Jet Club members have free access to Jet Club’s helplines. For support and advice call:

Personal Health Advisor
SA & Namibia
0800 0045 45 

Botswana, Lesotho & Swaziland
+2711 991 8258

ALL ABOUT EPILEPSY ALL ABOUT EPILEPSY Reviewed by Jet Club on February 06, 2020 Rating: 5
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