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Neuroscience For Kids

Common Myths about Epilepsy
December 22, 2009

epi Epilepsy is a fairly common neurological disorder: the World Health Organization estimates that 50 million people worldwide are affected by epilepsy and seizures. During a seizure, neurons in the cerebral hemispheres misfire and create abnormal electrical activity. The seizure prevents the brain from:

The results of a 2007 Internet survey of 4,605 people revealed that many people hold beliefs about epilepsy that could be harmful. The survey focused on four myths about epilepsy.

ambulanceMyth #1:Call an ambulance immediately if someone has a seizure.

57.9% of the surveyed respondents said that they would call an ambulance immediately if they saw someone having an epileptic seizure. First aid for a seizure usually does NOT require an ambulance. Rather, first aid should focus on keeping the person safe and preventing an injury. An ambulance may be necessary if a person is unconscious for more than 10 minutes or has repeated seizures, or if the seizure continues for more than 5 minutes.

mouth Myth #2: Put something in the mouth of a person who is having a seizure.

32.9% of the surveyed respondents said something should be placed in the mouth of a person having a seizure. First aid for a person suffering a seizure should NEVER include putting anything into the person's mouth. People are not in danger of swallowing their own tongue.

Myth #3: People who have a seizure foam at the mouth.

13.9% of the surveyed respondents said that people often or always foam at the mouth when they have a seizure. Actually, foaming at the mouth is not a common symptom of a seizure and many people who have a seizure do not show this symptom at all.

brain Myth #4: People who have a seizure become violent.

3.2% of the survey respondents said that people who have an epileptic seizure often or always become violent. Most people who answered the survey got this one correct: people who suffer from a seizure rarely get violent.

Overall, people who were younger than 18 years old or older than 60 year old believed the myths more than people between 18 and 60 years old. Also, people who did not know anyone with epilepsy were more likely to believe the myths than people who knew someone with epilepsy. Men and women were equally likely to believe the myths.

mask Public education might help dispel the myths associated with epilepsy. Unfortunately, popular music and many characters portrayed in popular movies continue to perpetuate myths about epilepsy. For example, many characters with epilepsy played by male actors are dangerous. Perhaps this should remind us all not to look to Hollywood for information about science and health.

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Copyright © 1996-2009, Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington