Purple Day for Epilepsy

Annually, on March 26, Epilepsy Awareness and Education are top of mind during Purple Day for Epilepsy. Purple Day is a global grassroots event that raises awareness for Epilepsy. People around the globe are encouraged to wear purple in support of those living with Epilepsy, and erase the stigma attached to the disorder.

50 million people worldwide are living with Epilepsy. In 2008, a young lady by the name of Cassidy Megan created Purple Day motivated by her personal struggles with Epilepsy. The Epilepsy Board of Nova Scotia came on board to help develop Cassidy’s idea, and it has grown every year since its inception.

For Purple Day, let’s talk about Epilepsy. In honour of Cassidy Megan and her journey, as well as all people living with Epilepsy, please wear purple on March 26 to show your support.

Epilepsy affects the lives not only of people living with it but also the parents, family and friends, classmates and teachers, and co-workers. Our most significant contribution is to share knowledge and show support. We are here, as humans, to erase the stigma attached to any disability or disorder through education and acceptance.

What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical (activity) signals in the brain. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and affects people of all ages.

Epilepsy is also known as ‘seizure disorder’. Epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable seizures which can cause other health problems. Epilepsy is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of seizure types and control varying from person to person.

Public misunderstandings of Epilepsy cause challenges that are often worse than the seizures. A person is diagnosed with Epilepsy if they have two unprovoked seizures or one unprovoked with the likelihood of more, that was not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar.

What causes Epilepsy?
In up to 70% of all people with Epilepsy, no cause has been discovered. Some of the known causes of Epilepsy include:
  • Oxygen deprivation during birth
  • Head injuries that occur during birth or from accidents during youth or adulthood
  • Brain tumors
  • Genetic conditions that result in brain injury such as tuberous sclerosis
  • Infections such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Stoke or any other damage to the brain
  • Abnormal levels of substances such as sodium or blood sugar
Although the underlying causes of Epilepsy are usually not known, certain things can provoke seizures in people with Epilepsy. Avoiding these triggers can help prevent seizures and the challenges associated with Epilepsy.

If you are on medication, do not skip doses, avoid heavy alcohol use, avoid the use of narcotics, get enough rest, and be sure to check with your practitioner that any new medications don’t interfere with your anti-seizure medication.

Women with Epilepsy can face additional challenges around their menstrual cycles so making sure you get enough rest and are aware of your body's reactions is imperative.

Are there different types of seizures?
There are several types of Epilepsy, each with different causes, symptoms, and treatments. These include:

Refractory Epilepsy: Refractory Epilepsy is seizures that are not being brought under control by medications. This is a drug-resistant epilepsy that may require other means of therapy to limit the symptoms of the condition.

Photosensitive Epilepsy: People with photosensitive Epilepsy have seizures triggered by flashing lights, bold or contrasting visual patterns or overexposure to video games. Photosensitive Epilepsy is also known as Reflex Epilepsy and affects less than 5% of people with Epilepsy. Seizures are often reduced by avoiding visual stimuli that may cause an episode.

Benign Rolandic Epilepsy: These seizures are seen mostly in the face, but sometimes affect the body as well. Benign Rolandic Epilepsy is characterized by twitching, numbness, or tingling of a child’s face and often recedes during adolescence.

Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome: LGS is a rare and severe kind of Epilepsy that starts in childhood. Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome is characterized by multiple types of seizures and intellectual disability.

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy: JME is a form of Epilepsy that starts in childhood or adolescence. Seizures often look like twitching or jerking, but can also include absence seizures. Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy is one of the most common types of Epilepsy, and it responds well to treatment with anticonvulsants.

Abdominal Epilepsy: Seizure activity causes abdominal pain and nausea. It is a very uncommon condition that is typically found in children. Abdominal Epilepsy consists of gastrointestinal disturbances caused by Epilepsy activity.

Absence Seizures: Formerly called petit mal seizures, absence seizures are caused by abnormal and intense electrical activity in the brain that causes lapses in awareness that often only last a few seconds. They are more common in children and can be confused with day dreaming as individuals seem to be staring into the distance during an episode.

Temporal Lobe Seizures: Also called psychomotor seizures, they cause temporary changes in movement sensation or autonomic function such as heart rate and salivation. Temporal Lobe Seizures is a chronic disorder that typically lasts one or two minutes per episode.

Types of seizures and their symptoms
There are two main types of seizures. Focal Seizures start in a particular part of the brain, and their names are based on which part of the brain is affected when they happen. These can cause both physical and emotional effects and make you feel, see or hear things that aren’t there.

About 60% of people with Epilepsy have this type of seizure which is sometimes referred to as a partial seizure. Sometimes the symptoms of a focal seizure can be mistaken for signs of mental illness or other nerve disorders.

The second type of seizure is called Generalized Seizure. These happen when nerve cells on both sides of your brain misfire. They can make you have muscle spasms, a blackout, or a fall.

Seizures are often a combination of the two types or start as one and lead to the other. These are called unknown onset seizures and cause both sensory and physical symptoms. There are six types of Generalized Seizures:

Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal): These are the most noticeable because during a seizure, your body stiffens, jerks, and shakes and you lose consciousness. Sometimes you can lose control of other bodily functions while having a Tonic-Clonic seizure. These seizures usually last 1-3 minutes, but if they last longer, 911 should be called immediately.

Clonic Seizures: Your muscles will spasm which often makes your face, neck and arm muscles jerk rhythmically. They may last several minutes.

Tonic Seizures: The muscles in your arms, legs, or trunk tense up. These seizures usually last less than 20 seconds and often happen while you are sleeping. If you do happen to be standing, you can lose your balance and fall. These are most common in people with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.

Atonic Seizures: Your muscles suddenly go limp, and your head may lean forward. If you’re holding something you may drop it and if you’re standing, you may fall. These seizures usually last less than 15 seconds but sometimes happen several times in a row

Myoclonic Seizures: Your muscles may suddenly jerk as if you’ve been shocked. These may start in the same part of the brain as an Atonic seizure, and some people have both Atonic and Myoclonic seizures.

Absence Seizures (Petit Mal): You may seem to be disconnected from people around you and not respond to them. You may stare blankly into space, and your eyes could roll back in your head. These usually only last a few seconds and you may not remember having a seizure.

What are treatment options?
Generally speaking, most doctors will start treating Epilepsy with medication. If medications aren’t working, they move to surgery or other forms of treatment. Anti-seizure medication is sufficient for most people with Epilepsy, and if treated early enough, some people may become free of seizures.

Even after long periods of time without a seizure, you may still have to watch for signs or signals around intense stress or the onset of puberty. The longer a person goes without a seizure, the less likely they are to have another, and that’s great news!

Surgery usually doesn’t become an option unless there is a particular part of the brain that is affected by the seizures, and it can’t be treated any other way, or surgery is the most likely treatment to end seizures in a person with Epilepsy.

Surgeons will take into consideration whether the area of the brain affected could interfere with vital functions such as speech, language, motor skills, hearing, or sight before they perform surgery. Surgery can prevent seizures from recurring, but it helps to get the brain activity to a level where it can adequately be controlled by medication.

There are many other forms of treatment including diet-based treatments and natural supplements, acupuncture, and alternative therapies. Make sure you consult your primary care practitioner before starting any new regime or discontinuing any medications.

Do extensive research on any treatment options to make sure you are making informed decisions about the health and welfare of yourself, or your child.