Living with Epilepsy: A Medical Perspective

Dr. Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

Epilepsy is a condition involving the occurrence of two or more seizures. A seizure occurs when the electrical impulses in the brain do not cease, and, as a result, become recurrent resulting in excess cerebral activity.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION: Sleep deprivation causes seizures to occur. When the brain is well-rested it performs at maximal capacity.

MISSING MEALS: Missing meals can also give rise to seizures. When you miss a meal, your blood glucose is lower. This low level of sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can cause seizures to occur.

DRUGS: Certain medications can reduce the threshold of seizures, including ciprofloxacin, certain cephalosporins and tramadol. Some psychotropic agents such as clozapine and chlorpromazine can also lower your seizure threshold. It is best to avoid these agents and ensure that your physicians know all of your conditions. Amphetamines can also cause seizures.

DRUGS OF ABUSE: Other drugs, such as cocaine, are notorious for causing seizures. Cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict, leading to strokes which can result in brain damage and seizures. Alcohol, if consumed by those with a genetic predisposition, can also give rise to seizures. Excessive alcohol abuse can give rise to alcohol-induced seizures.

Because loss of consciousness may be involved, potential harm may occur. Avoiding heights such as ladders, cliffs, the edges of train or subway platforms, can help avert harm. Using the back burner while cooking helps prevent burns. Avoiding driving for at least one year of seizure freedom can prevent accidents, though some states, including Florida, require only six months. Avoid the operation of heavy equipment, and avoid swimming alone to prevent drowning. The same is true of taking baths when alone.

It is an excellent idea to get a medic-alert bracelet, especially for young patients. After a seizure, patients may appear incoherent, disoriented and confused. It is also good to keep a list of medications with you at all times. Keeping everything clear around the patient can prevent injury.

There are excellent resources for information including the Epilepsy Foundation and Epilepsy Alliance America, both of which provide a wealth of non-medical services. Some branches even have summer camps for children.

And then, of course, locally we have another excellent support group, the JoshProvides Epilepsy Assistance Foundation, that raises awareness of epilepsy and provides support and resources to those facing the challenges posed by the disease. JoshProvides offers a Support Group to keep families connected to resources in our community, helps to distribute seizure alert and detection devices, helps with medical services, helps in training service dogs to become seizure response dogs, transportation to medical appointments and community education. For more information on JoshProvides, visit