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Epilepsy is a surprisingly common condition that remains little understood by those who have not experienced it up close. Epilepsy Action Australia has published a list of common myths and misconceptions about epilepsy. In an effort to raise awareness and lower ignorance, we’re sharing with you some of these facts.

Myth: Epilepsy is a mental illness.

Fact: Epilepsy is not a mental illness, nor does it cause mental illness. Many people become confused because they know that epilepsy affects the brain. Seizures are “a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain”, while conditions such as depression are believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Myth: You can swallow your tongue during a seizure.

Fact: This is incorrect. It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue. Do not place anything in the mouth of someone who is experiencing a seizure. This belief likely stems from the fact that a relaxed tongue can roll to the back of the throat and block the airway. When a seizure has stopped, roll the person onto their side (the recovery position) and tilt their head back slightly.

Myth: People with epilepsy are not allowed to drive.

Fact: People with epilepsy are indeed allowed to drive, as long as their seizures are controlled by medication, or if they fulfil guidelines set for them by their state’s driving authority.

Myth: One cannot die from epilepsy.

Fact: Unfortunately, this is not true. Seizures can cause deaths by way of drowning, suffocation, burns, falls, and accidents – whether during or after a seizure.

Myth: Epilepsy is a disability, creating a barrier to a “normal life”.

Fact: Epilepsy is not an insurmountable barrier to personal achievement. Most people with epilepsy have the same range of abilities and intelligence as those of us who don’t. While “a significant number of people with learning difficulties and/or intellectual disability have epilepsy, it does not mean that people with epilepsy necessarily have learning difficulties or intellectual disability.”

Myth: Epileptic seizures cause individuals to lose consciousness and convulse.

Fact: Seizures take many forms, and can present as a brief loss of awareness, confusion or disorientation, all the way through to major convulsions.

Myth: A person having a seizure should be restrained.

Fact: No restraint will stop or slow down a seizure. Doing so will likely agitate or harm the individual in question – not help them. The only time you should move a person during a seizure is if they are in harm’s way – on/near a busy road, or near a staircase or pool.

Myth: Epilepsy is rare.

Fact: Epilepsy is actually, “the most common serious neurological condition in the world today”. It can occur on its own or be associated with other brain-affecting conditions like autism, dementia, or cerebral palsy. Epilepsy affects up to 2 per cent of Australians.

If you would like to read more about epilepsy, you can visit Epilepsy Action Australia.

Which of these myths did you believe until today?