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Epilepsy Facts and Myths

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There can be a lot of myths and misconceptions around epilepsy. Sometimes after being first diagnosed, a person may not realise just how common epilepsy is and in a more general sense, the public may have misguided beliefs on how a person with epilepsy can be affected by the condition. This section provides key points about epilepsy that are covered in wider detail across our entire 'Epilepsy Information' section. 

  • There are approximately 40,000 people living with epilepsy in Ireland today, making it one of the most common neurological conditions in the country.
  • There are approximately 10,000 children living with epilepsy in Ireland.  See the 'Children' section of our website for more.
  • Across the globe, over 50,000,000 people are living with epilepsy.
  • A person can develop epilepsy at any stage of their life. 
  • Why a person develops epilepsy varies. A person can develop epilepsy due to a brain injury or infection; strokes; genetic factors or a developmental disability. However, in 50% of cases it is not known why a person develops epilepsy. 
  • Epilepsy is usually diagnosed after two or more unprovoked seizures - but a person can be diagnosed after one seizure in some cases. Diagnosis is usually made following an EEG, CT, MRI, clinical opinion etc. See the 'Diagnosis' section of our website for more. 
  • There are many different types of seizures. Some affect a person's awareness; others don't. See the 'Seizure Types' section for more. 
  • The treatment of epilepsy is extremely individual and depends on factors such as the type of seizures they experience and the area of the brain the seizures originate from. However, with the identification of the right treatment route by an individual's medical team, 70% of those living with the condition can go on to become seizure-free. This is most commonly achieved through the use of Anti-Epileptic Drugs (AEDs) but in some cases, brain surgery can be an option for some individuals with epilepsy.  See our 'Treatment' section for further information. 
  • A trigger is something that may cause a person to have a seizure. These are individual to a person living with the condition and can include factors such as stress, anxiety and tiredness.  See our 'Lifestyle' section for further information. 
  • Seizure first aid can often be misunderstood as being complex.  However, the key response to a seizure can be summarised in three key words - Time, Safe, Stay. See our 'Seizure First Aid' section for more details.
  • Seizure first aid in particular is associated with many myths when it comes to epilepsy, including:
  1. A person can swallow their tongue during a seizure and must have an object placed in their mouth to prevent this. This is a MYTH. Never put anything in a person's mouth during a seizure. It is impossible for them to swallow their tongue and you will only hurt the person or yourself by attempting to put something in their mouths. 
  2. A person should be restrained during a seizure. This is a MYTH. Again, if attempting this as part of a response to a seizure, you will only hurt the person or yourself. 
  3. Seizures will only be triggered by flashing lights. This is a MYTH. While strobe lighting and photosensitive patterns are a seizure trigger for those living with photosensitive epilepsy, this type of epilepsy represents a small percentage of the epilepsy community - with approximately 3-5% of people experiencing this type of epilepsy. 
  4. There is only one type of seizure and that involves falling to the ground and convulsing. This is a MYTH. There are many different types of seizures. In some seizures, a person could be fully upright and walking aimlessly and not be aware of their surroundings. 
  5. A person having a seizure is a medical emergency and an ambulance must be called. This is a MYTH. A seizure is classed as a medical emergency when it goes over 5 minutes which is why it is so important that the seizure is timed as part of seizure first aid. However, we always say at Epilepsy Ireland that if you witness a seizure and are in doubt about the response that should be taken, then call an ambulance as a precautionary measure.
  • The above is all discussed in greater detail in our 'Seizure First Aid' section.
  • Alongside the myths that are associated with the response to seizures, there can unfortunately still be misconceptions about a person with epilepsy's abilities. These include:
  1. A person with epilepsy is not allowed to drive. This is a MYTH. While restrictions apply while a person's seizures are active, a person can hold a driving license provided they are at least one-year seizure free. See the 'Driving' section of our website for more. 
  2. A person with epilepsy will affect a person's employment prospects. This is a MYTH. We are aware of a number of people with epilepsy who are living with the condition and have high-level careers. Sometimes, due to the misconceptions that are still associated with the condition, people may not disclose that they have epilepsy to colleagues.  Further information for people on this for people with epilepsy is available in our 'Employment' section of our website; while information for employers is available in the 'For Employers' section of our website. 
  3. A person with epilepsy can not take part in supporting activities. This is a MYTH. As noted, everyone's epilepsy is different but provided they let their coaches and teammates know how to help them in the event of a seizure, there is no reason why a person with epilepsy can't take part in and enjoy their their chosen sport. 

This section provides brief information regarding some of the key "need to knows" about epilepsy. However, we would encourage you to visit the other sections of 'Epilepsy Information' to learn about the condition. In addition, whether you are a person with epilepsy; a family member of a person with epilepsy; or a person who is simply looking to learn more about the condition, we are here to help. Contact your local Community Resource Officer should you have any further questions or require further information.