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Facts and Myths About Epilepsy

  • Published: 2010-11-24 (Revised/Updated 2011-08-28) : VA Maryland Health Care System.
  • Synopsis: The VA Epilepsy Center of Excellence list of myths about epilepsy that people still believe and the facts to bust them

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VA Maryland Health Care System Busts Myths about Epilepsy - While modern societies understand that epilepsy in a physical medical condition, health care providers at the VA Maryland Health Care System say that people still embrace myths about epilepsy.

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month! From kings to beggars, epilepsy has affected millions of people throughout history. At one time called "the Falling Disease," it had been attributed to an array of causes, including witchcraft, demon possession, magic and other supernatural events.

Ancient physicians, including Atreya of India and Hippocrates of Greece, challenged its connection to supernatural events, both recognizing that the seizures associated with epilepsy indicate a brain dysfunction. Aristotle of Greece was the first to link epilepsy with genius. While modern societies understand that epilepsy in a physical medical condition, health care providers at the VA Maryland Health Care System say that people still embrace myths about epilepsy.

Regina McGuire, nurse practitioner at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, the coordinating facility of the VA's National Epilepsy Centers of Excellence, Northeast Region, wants to debunk the myths about epilepsy. She says, "Superstitions persist - and there are a lot of them. Unfortunately people with epilepsy continue to face discrimination and prejudice."

The VA's Epilepsy Center of Excellence, says it's time to bust the myths! Below are a handful of myths about epilepsy that people still believe and the facts to bust them:

MYTH: Epilepsy is contagious, or you have to be born with it.

FACT: A medical condition that is not contagious, epilepsy often first appears in children and young adults, although anyone can develop epilepsy at any time. It is a side effect of traumatic brain injury, which can happen from car accidents, falls, fights, or any time the brain suffers a tremendous blow. Veterans can develop epilepsy after a traumatic brain injury sustained in combat from explosions or from any number of scenarios.

MYTH: People with epilepsy are disabled, can't drive and can't work.

FACT: People with the condition have the same range of abilities and intelligence as anyone else. Some have severe seizures and cannot work; others are successful and productive in challenging careers. People with seizure disorders are found in all walks of life and at all levels of business, government, the arts and the professions.

MYTH: People with epilepsy can't be parents.

FACT: Having epilepsy does not interfere with the reproductive process of either men or women. It is a medical condition and affects people in varying degrees.

MYTH: People with epilepsy swallow their tongue when experiencing a seizure.

FACT: Nothing should be placed in the person's mouth during a seizure. While it is not physically possible to swallow one's tongue, if the tongue is relaxed, it could block the breathing passage. Therefore, the person should be turned on his side so the tongue falls away and to the side.

MYTH: A person having a seizure should be held down.

FACT: Don't try to restrain the person; this might cause injury. Instead, move anything hard or sharp out of the way, and place something soft under the person's head.

MYTH: Always call an ambulance when a person has a seizure.

FACT: Unless the seizure last more than 5 minutes, or is followed by a series of seizures, it is seldom necessary to call an ambulance. There are medications that can be used to stop prolonged seizures, but overall, let the seizure run its course.

MYTH: You can make a person "snap out" of a seizure.

FACT: A seizure has to run its course, unless lasting longer than 5 minutes, then medical attention is needed.

MYTH: With today's medication and technology, epilepsy is largely a solved problem.

FACT: Epilepsy is a chronic medical problem that, for many people, can be successfully treated. Unfortunately, treatment doesn't work for everyone and there's a critical need for more research.

INFO: The VA Maryland Health Care System's Epilepsy Center of Excellence coordinating center for the Northeast region is beginning a program for epilepsy treatment that will include surgery and vagal nerve stimulation. Collaboration with the University of Maryland Epilepsy Center will continue for clinical and educational programs, as well as epilepsy focused research projects.

More about the VA's National Epilepsy Center of Excellence, Northeast region:

The mission of the Epilepsy Center of Excellence is to improve the quality of care for Veterans with epilepsy through an integrated, regional and national network of Epilepsy Centers of Excellence, thereby improving the availability of care within the Veterans Health Administration. The Baltimore VA Medical Center is the coordinating center for the Northeast region, which spans the area from Maine to Virginia and west to Ohio.

The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at two medical centers, one rehabilitation & community living center and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans' health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future co-payments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit

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