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Epilepsy Health Center

Serious Epilepsy Injuries Are Rare

Minor Cuts and Bruises Are Much More Common, Says Study
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Nov. 10, 2004 -- Most injuries related to epilepsy are not severe, according to a new study.

Elson So, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues report their findings in the Nov. 9 issue of the journal Neurology.

The researchers studied 247 people with epilepsy living in Rochester who were diagnosed between 1975 and 1984. The scientists documented all of the participants' seizure-related injuries (except those involving the mouth and tongue) that required medical attention. The researchers wanted to identify patient characteristics that relate to injuries during a seizure.

The researchers recorded seizure-related injuries in 16% of the group. A total of 62 seizure-related injuries were identified in 39 patients. Most (79%) were minor cuts, scratches, and bruises. Generalized convulsive seizures, which cause loss of consciousness and affect most or all of the brain, accounted for 82% of seizure-related injuries.

The researchers identified five potential risk factors for seizure-related injury:

  • Greater number of antiepileptic drugs used
  • Less independent living situation
  • Higher Rankin score (a measure of disability)
  • History of generalized convulsive seizures or drop attacks
  • Higher seizure frequency

However, researchers found that only seizure frequency was shown to be a significant risk factor.

People may mistakenly think that seizure injuries are usually a lot more serious because previous studies often focused on poorly controlled epilepsy in epilepsy centers or emergency rooms, says So in a news release.

Those worst-case scenarios, while possible, could distort the big picture. So concludes that "the study shows that seizure-related injuries are infrequent and generally of minor severity. In most epilepsy patients, excessive restriction of daily activities to avoid injury is unnecessary."

According to So, "Patients with well-controlled seizures have a negligible risk of injury, so patients with epilepsy who have uncontrolled seizures should work with their doctors toward seizure control and consider all treatment options, including epilepsy surgery."

Taking sensible precautions doesn't have to mean being overprotective. "Overestimating the risk of injuries may unfairly impact the rights of those with well-controlled epilepsy," says So.

In the news release, the researchers suggest these safety tips:

  • Follow basic safety rules (such as wearing a helmet when skating, biking, or skiing).
  • Take medications as prescribed.
  • Report drug side effects to your health care provider.
  • Avoid situations that can worsen seizure recurrence (such as lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, excessive alcohol, and recreational drugs).
  • Try to stay in good physical shape.
  • Have an appropriate companion or supervising adult present for activities that could be dangerous if a seizure occurs (such as swimming).

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