The holidays are here. As many of us prepare to travel—and welcome—friends and family to share our holiday feasts, people who have epilepsy should take some extra precautions to stay healthy and safe.
- Get enough sleep: Excitement, stress and jet lag can disturb sleep patterns. Extreme sleep deprivation is known to cause seizures. For example, soldiers returning home from Vietnam during the 1960’s and 1970’s were so excited that they would be up for 36 hours straight. This extreme lack of sleep caused a convulsion in people who do not have epilepsy; it could certainly precipitate seizures in people who have this condition.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is often served at holiday meals. People with epilepsy can probably tolerate a beer or a small glass of wine or spirit. However, excessive use/abuse of alcohol is more likely to bring on a seizure than in a person without epilepsy.
- Nutrition and hydration: In my experience, people who have epilepsy do not need to follow a special diet; just follow routine recommendations for good nutrition and water intake.
- Bring an adequate supply of anti-seizure medication when you travel: Be sure to bring enough anti-seizure medication with you to last the duration of your trip plus a couple extra days to be safe. Keep the medications in their original bottle/container with the prescription (dosage) and your doctor on the label. (This information may be required if you must cross state or international borders.)
- Stress: No matter how much you enjoy the festive season, holidays can be stressful for anyone. Emotional stress can definitely bring on a seizure in people who have epilepsy. If possible, minimize the amount of time you spend in a stressful environment. Meditation and light exercise are good ways to reduce stress.
- Carry identification when you go out: People who have epilepsy can have a seizure at any time. During a seizure, a person cannot tell bystanders that he or she has epilepsy. When a seizure occurs, it’s usually not necessary to call an ambulance; the person will stop jerking and shaking after a minute or two and just sleep it off. A MedicAlert bracelet or necklace would reassure observers that the person has a known chronic condition that may not be that serious. This information is also useful if emergency personnel are called. Always carry a card in your wallet that states your condition (type of epilepsy) and up-to-date medications you take to control it. Be sure to include a contact address and phone number of one or two relatives that emergency personnel or a Good Samaritan can contact in an emergency. If you are away from home visiting friends or relatives, be sure to provide similar contact information about your hosts.
- Cook on rear burners of stove-top: I was recently shown the burn-scars on the forearms and hands of a young woman with epilepsy. The risk of burns during a seizure will be significantly decreased by keeping the front burners off.
- Danger in bathtub/shower: Seizures, of course, can happen in the bathtub and shower. I know of seventeen people with epilepsy who drowned, including five people falling face-down and blocking the shower drain. They lost their lives in just two inches of water. Frightening, yes, but make plans to protect yourself and lessen this risk. Try to have someone always close-by when bathing and do not lock the door if you must close it. Arrange with your companion, if that person cannot stay close that you will sing while in the tub or shower. If the singing stops, that’s a danger signal.
- Wear a helmet: After eating the sumptuous meal, a lot of people like to get out and exercise to work off the calories they have just consumed. Everyone—and especially people with epilepsy—should wear protective headgear (a helmet) if you ride a skateboard, bicycle, horses and even ski. A helmet will protect your precious brain from injury if you fall and hit your head while participating in one of these activities.
Lance Fogan, M.D. is Clinical Professor of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “DINGS” is his first novel. It is a mother’s dramatic story that teaches epilepsy, now available in eBook, audiobook and soft cover editions.