Coping with Epilepsy

Coping with Epilepsy


By Tecla Ndambuki

Many people get scared when they witness somebody having an epileptic fit. Few understand that it is a sickness like any other and attribute it to witchcraft, curses, and devil possession. Many believe it is contagious and therefore isolate those with epilepsy and their families. Because of such beliefs, epilepsy is highly stigmatized in many African communities and over 90% of people do not receive appropriate treatment.

Many affected families first seek help from witchdoctors, herbalists and exorcists. They only seek modern medicine when these interventions fail. This is very sad because available antiepileptic drug treatment is very effective in controlling seizures. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge…….” Hosea 4:6.

Epilepsy is a condition that causes repeated, sudden, brief changes in the normal electrical activity of the brain. During one of these epileptic episodes, commonly called a seizure or convulsion, brain cells fire uncontrollably at up to four times their normal rate, temporarily affecting the way a person behaves, moves, thinks or feels. Some epileptic episodes are very brief and characterized by “empty stares”. Some victims do not know they have epilepsy because they are not aware of these episodes.

If you have epilepsy or have a family member who has it, it is important to learn the facts about it as it can be good therapy. Learning about the causes, as well as the treatments can be empowering. One is then able to discount the myths. Interacting with others who also have epilepsy can also help somebody to cope.

Those living with epilepsy need to make sure that they get at least 8 hours of sleep everyday. Lack of sleep is known to trigger fits. They also need to take their antiepileptic medicines at a regular time every day as specified by their doctor. They need to eat proper, balanced meals and drink at least 6–8 glasses of water per day to maintain hydration Any infections should be treated promptly as they are often associated with worsening of seizures, especially if associated with fever. They should also not work on the computer for too long at a stretch and should take adequate breaks. Too much television viewing is dangerous too. Certain patterns and colours are known to trigger epilepsy. They should not take over the counter medicines for cold as they may contain chemicals known to be triggers. Other certain drugs are also known to aggravate seizures including some antibiotics and stimulants. It is best to be guided by a doctor on the best medications to take.

In an interview with Women of Faith magazine, Gladys, of the Kenya Association for the Welfare of People with Epilepsy (KAWE), a non- Governmental Organization which caters for people with epilepsy, said that the organization holds awareness campaigns throughout the country to educate the public on how to live positively with the disease. “It is only through such awareness campaigns that people are able to connect epilepsy with diseases such as malaria and measles and therefore feel free to visit health centres and hospitals for treatment” she noted. “People should understand that the only time epileptic persons are different from us is when they are in seizure. Nothing else differs. We are past the era when you would hear of an epileptic child being sent out of school or some young people not getting married because they have epilepsy

Facts about Epilepsy

Epilepsy is universal with no age, racial, or social class.
It has no geographical boundaries.
It is not contagious.
2 out of 100 people in Kenya suffer from epilepsy

How does one get epilepsy?

Injuries on the head during road accidents, fights or during birth.

Prolonged lack of oxygen during birth
Infections that may cause brain damage, like meningitis, measles, cerebral malaria e.t.c.
Diseases/Infections during pregnancy that may cause damage to the developing baby’s brain.
A foreign growth in the brain e.g. brain tumour.
Drugs like alcohol, bhang, cocaine, poisons like lead and mercury and substance abuse.
Some types of epilepsy have no known cause

First aid during a convulsion

Do not panic or run away. Be calm itt is not contagious
Remove the patient from any danger like water, fire or traffic
Take away harmful objects
Put something soft under the head
Turn patient on his/her side, so that saliva can easily drop from the mouth
Stay with the patient until he/she recovers
Do not stop the movement
Do not give anything to drink or eat
Do not put anything in the mouth
Do not rush the patient in the hospital unless she/he gets repeated attacks.

Additional Source: Kenya Association for the Welfare of People with Epilepsy (KAWE) P.O Box 60790-00200 Tel. 3870885. Nairobi Email:

Website: T

This article first appeared in the March – April 2010 issue of Woman of Faith magazine.

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