9 Complications of Epilepsy
Thu Nov 14 17:31:29 UTC 2013
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system in which normal brain cell activity becomes disrupted, leading to seizures. In addition to seizures that can result in the loss of consciousness or awareness, epilepsy increases the risk of several additional complications. Here’s what epilepsy patients, family members, and caretakers should know.
Seizure symptoms vary among epileptics—some people may stare blankly for a few moments, while others may experience twitching arms and legs. The loss of consciousness brought on by an epileptic seizure can make it easy to fall over, causing injury.
If you’re driving and lose consciousness or control due to a seizure, the likelihood of a dangerous car accident increases. At the same time, some medications used to treat seizures can cause drowsiness. Many states place restrictions on drivers with epilepsy, requiring patients to be seizure-free for a certain number of months (or even years) before getting a driver’s license.
Because of the sudden nature of seizures, people with epilepsy are 15 to 19 times more likely to drown while swimming than people without the disorder. If you have epilepsy, avoid swimming and other water sports unless you have an experienced companion who can assist you.
Like most drugs, epilepsy medications can come with a variety of side effects. One of the most common side effects is drowsiness, which can negatively affect daily life. Other potential side effects include rash or severe bruising, nausea, and fever. In some rare cases, epilepsy medication may actually cause more frequent seizures. Alternate treatments may be available. Speak with your doctor about adjusting your medication plan if symptoms make life difficult for you.
People with epilepsy are more likely to experience emotional problems, including depression and anxiety. Although psychological issues may be present regardless of the condition, the difficulties of dealing with epilepsy are a common factor leading to depression.
The inherent dangers of seizures make pregnancy even more complicated for expectant mothers with epilepsy. Additionally, some anti-epileptic medications may increase the risk of birth defects. While most women with epilepsy are able to have healthy children, talk to your doctor about your plans to ensure a safe pregnancy.
When epilepsy is drug-resistant, some patients may turn to surgical treatment, particularly brain surgery. Like any neurological operation, there are risks involved with removing small amounts of brain tissue. While many epilepsy patients can live a normal life after successful surgery, a small percentage may experience minor complications or even fatal problems.
A specific condition called status epilepticus occurs when you experience a seizure for more than five minutes at a time, or if you have several seizures in a row without gaining complete consciousness in between each attack. Epilepsy patients with status epilepticus have an increased risk of permanent brain damage, which can be fatal.
For epilepsy patients, there is a small risk of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, or SUDEP. Although no one is certain of the cause of SUDEP, it may be related to heart and respiratory complications. Talk to your doctor about controlling your epilepsy because there is a higher risk of SUDEP when epilepsy is poorly controlled.
The complications of epilepsy can be scary. However, if you take proper precautions, follow your treatment plan, and have an ongoing dialogue with your doctor, you can reduce your risks and better manage your condition. Also, engage your friends and family to help you manage your epilepsy and anticipate its necessary precautions.
Medically Reviewed By: William C. Lloyd III, MD Last Annual Review Date: October 17, 2013
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