National Epilepsy Month

November 17, 2009 Blogs, Former Pioneer Staff Print Print

It seems that every month is a national awareness month for a long list of causes. November has many causes ranging from serious — National Adoption Awareness Month, National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and National Diabetes Awareness Month — to just for fun — National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month, National Raisin Bread Month, and National Pomegranate Month.

But as Thanksgiving draws near and we begin thinking about what we are thankful for, I would like to let you know that November also is National Epilepsy Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, epilepsy is defined as recurrent, unprovoked seizures. They say it affects nearly 2.5 million people in the U.S. alone. There are almost 308 million people in the U.S., according to This means about one in every 123 people have epilepsy. OCCC has more than 14,000 students attending this semester. When you apply the national average, about 114 students have epilepsy. If you’re a full-time student taking five classes and each class has 25 students, there is a significant chance you know someone with this disease.

Pretend for a moment that the person next to you is epileptic. What are the signs? What should you do in an emergency? In truth, seizures are unpredictable. However, there are a few things you can try to notice. According to, there are several warning signs for seizures, but most are only noticeable by the person living with seizures. If a person mentions an unusual smell, taste or feeling or if you notice the person is suddenly forgetful or had a memory lapse, these are signs to take notice of. If the person’s arm, leg or body jerks or if he or she complains of a sudden headache, these also are signs. Two of the signs that should be fairly easy to recognize is if the person suddenly looks confused, weak or sleepy and if that person suddenly looses control of his or her urine or stool.

Seizures can be unpredictable and for most people — both onlookers and the person having it — a scary event. So if that person sitting next to you was to start to have a seizure what should you do? In-depth details on what you should do if a person has a seizure can be found at The first thing might be the hardest, keep calm. You want to make sure to not hold or try to control the person’s movements. Time the seizure with your watch or, if you’re like me, with a cell phone.

There also are obvious things to do, but during the event may not seem so obvious. Move anything that may hurt the person away from them, such as breakables. Try to place something soft like a folded jacket under their head and loosen or remove anything that might choke the person, like a necklace or necktie. One of the myths is to place your fingers in their mouth to hold the tongue, but that is not true. According to, “a person having a seizure CANNOT swallow his tongue.” In fact, placing your fingers in their mouth can harm both you and the person having the seizure. The Web site also states to be friendly with the person when their seizure has passed and to stay with them until a ride has arrived or the person is coherent enough to drive home.

Not all seizures are the same and every person who lives with seizures experiences them differently. Remember, epilepsy is not contagious nor does it affect a specific type of person. Chanda Gunn, a goalie for the U.S. women’s hockey team that placed third in the 2006 Winter Olympics, lives with epilepsy. In an article on Gunn says, “If you asked me to pick five words to describe myself, epilepsy probably wouldn’t be on that list.”

For more information about epilepsy, the signs, first aid or for frequently asked questions, visit or

To read more about Chanda Gunn, click here.l

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