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Epilepsy – know the facts, not the fiction

Nearly one in 100 people are affected by epilepsy, and yet there are many common misunderstandings about this condition. By definition, epilepsy is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A single seizure episode does not constitute a diagnosis of epilepsy.

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month, a time dedicated to increase awareness about the chronic disorder. In recognition of that, Takijah Heard, MD, a Pediatric Neurologist and Epileptologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem, identifies some of the common misunderstandings about epilepsy:

People with epilepsy cannot drive. True and False. A person suffering from a seizure when driving may put themselves and others at risk of severe injury or death. Whether or not someone can drive will depend on state and local laws, as well as physician recommendations. In many cases, once the seizure is under control, they may be allowed to drive again. The decision to drive or not is often a personal decision made by the individual, family and health care professional.

People with epilepsy should not have children. False. While it is important for epileptic women to plan in advance and have a discussion with a neurologist, there is no reason why they cannot have children. In fact, the majority of pregnancies in epileptic women are uneventful.

Children with epilepsy never outgrow it. False. Epilepsy is not a lifelong condition. Some epilepsy is age-dependent, meaning that some epilepsies start and end at certain ages and do not affect adult life. Many children who are on medications for epilepsy and remain seizure-free for two to four years can be tapered off their medication. While medications will not eliminate the existence of epilepsy for everyone, it’s advisable to coordinate best treatment options with your pediatric neurologist.

All epilepsy is inherited. False. While a family history of epilepsy may increase the risk for developing the condition, it is not the only factor and the risk is often very low. Generally, the cause of epilepsy is unknown in the majority of cases, up to two-thirds.

Epilepsy is contagious. False. This condition cannot be spread or passed on to others. More than 65 percent of epilepsy cases are not linked to a specific cause. Frequent risk factors for developing epilepsy include: age, previous brain injury, stroke, and infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.

If medications do not work, there is no useful treatment. False. Medication is one treatment option for epilepsy. Other useful treatments include: surgery, nerve and brain stimulation, and diet.

If you have other questions about the condition or suffer from epilepsy, it is recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider. For more information on the condition or how you can support Epilepsy Awareness Month, visit

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