Purple Day raises awareness for epilepsy
26 March is Purple Day, the International Day for Epilepsy.
The campaign aims to raise awareness and understanding around epilepsy by encouraging people to wear purple.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain, causing frequent seizures.
A seizure is a burst of electrical activity in the brain, temporarily affecting how the brain works, and can present itself through a range of different symptoms, including losing awareness and staring off into space, uncontrollable jerking or shaking in the body (commonly called a ‘fit’), and becoming stiff. Sometimes epilepsy sufferers will also pass out, or not remember what has happened.
It can start at any age, but most commonly beings in childhood or in people over 60. Although it’s a lifelong condition, for some it slowly gets better over time.
In most cases it’s not clear why epilepsy happens, though it can be caused when there has been damage to the brain, including from a stroke, brain tumour, or brain infection. Drug or alcohol misuse and serious brain injuries can also cause epilepsy.
Living with epilepsy
Everyone’s situation is different, but many find it possible to lead very normal lives with epilepsy if their seizures are well controlled thanks to good management and proper medication. It’s still possible to go to school and work; epilepsy won’t necessarily be disruptive.
Other activities take more consideration; most epilepsy suffers don’t drive, and activities like swimming and other sports need to be carefully monitored, as does taking contraception or planning a pregnancy.
Seizures are dangerous, so an important part of epilepsy is trying to keep them as controlled as possible. This is done in several ways. The first is through the right medication – anti-epileptic are very effective and prescribed often.
The next method is understanding triggers. Some people living with epilepsy have known triggers, such as stress, alcohol and lack of sleep. Avoiding activities that are likely to trigger you can help minimise the chance of seizure.
Finally, taking precautions to create a safe home environment is an important part of living with this condition. Practical measures like covering radiators and avoiding furniture with sharp edges can help lower the risk of injury if a seizure does occur. Other precautions like leaving the bathroom door unlocked and turning saucepan handles away from you when on the hob can also minimise the risk of injury.
Epilepsy after 60
1 in 4 people who have been newly diagnosed with epilepsy is over the age of 65. For half of this group the cause will be related to stroke or other health conditions that make epilepsy high risk. For the other half of sufferers however, no cause is ever identified.
Because of this, it’s important to understand and recognise the signs of seizure. In older adults focal seizures are more common than the convulsions and fits most people associate with the disorder.
Focal seizures can cause sudden changes to your hearing or vision, bring sensations of feeling hot or cold, cause difficulty processing language and even bring feelings of deja vu. Because of the more subtle nature of these symptoms, many people don’t realise what’s happening straight away. If you think you’re having a seizure, call an ambulance, or if you suspect you’ve had one in the past, make an appointment to speak to your GP.
There are great resources online to help you understand more about the condition. Epilepsy Action explains developing epilepsy in later life, and also provides a useful article about recognising the symptoms of focal seizures.
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