COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Local experts say epilepsy is not a condition to be afraid of. Piedmont Columbus Regional pediatric neurologist Pierre Fequiere treats patients with epilepsy every day and knows they can be scary. However, he wants people to know most of the time epilepsy is treatable and short seizures typically do not cause neurological damage.
The doctor explained epilepsy can affect people of any age – his patients include newborns to 18-year-olds – but can also be outgrown by a significant portion of patients with effective treatment and time.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Fequiere, admitting witnessing an epileptic seizure can be traumatic, especially for the parents of affected individuals.
He added family histories of epilepsy do not significantly increase a child’s risk of developing epilepsy. Seizures, he said, generally impact about 1% of the general population. Additionally, estimates by the CDC indicate about six out of every 1,000 children between the ages of 0 and 17 have epilepsy.
Healthychildren.org notes about 60% of all children diagnosed with epilepsy will grow out of it. Typical courses of action include treatment with medication. In more serious cases or those which extend into adulthood, surgery or use of other methods like specialized diets or vagal nerve stimulators can be potential treatments, as well.
“For the most part, we’re able to control the seizures,” said Fequiere. He added, if patients can go two years without a seizure on medication, doctors can often take them off of treatment successfully.
In the event that someone with epilepsy has a seizure, Fequiere explained the most important course of action is to keep them safe. He recommended familiarizing oneself with common signs of oncoming seizure by researching seizure first aid. Some of these symptoms include blank staring, confused speech, fumbling, shaking and more.
While many people believe they should hold down someone experiencing a seizure or put something in their mouth to bite, these are misconceptions. According to Fequiere, the best course of action is to ensure the person does not hit their head and block other hazards, as well as time the seizure.
If a person does not stop seizing after five minutes, it’s time to get help from trained professionals. Fequiere explained many seizures stop well before this point but there is potential for them to last a long time. He noted short seizures do not typically cause brain damage.
According to the pediatric neurologist, in animal studies, seizures did not begin to cause brain damage until after they had continued for 40 to 50 minutes.
After a person has stopped seizing, Fequiere advised moving them onto their side. He said, “You don’t want them to swallow their saliva and cause pneumonias and so forth.”
In the case of repeated, acute seizures, medications like Diastat can be administered in an effort to stop a person seizing. Since Diastat is rectally administered, the experience can be embarrassing for many pediatric patients, however newer nasal medications like Nayzilam may become more commonplace in the coming years, said Fequiere.
The doctor also advised epilepsy patients and their families to keep track of triggers and other environmental factors which could impact the prevalence of seizures. These include lack of sleep, high sugar consumption rates, and lack of physical activity, amongst other factors.
“I’m a big proponent of a healthy lifestyle,” said Fequiere. “So, getting your sleep, cutting down on your sugar, increasing ketones in your diet, [exercising] has been show to calm your EEG and also improve seizure control.”
EEG stands for “electroencephalogram,” a type of test which measures electrical activity in the brain. November is annually recognized as Epilepsy Awareness Month.