Saturday, January 3, 2009

A few words about epilepsy and seizures

There is a lot of discussion about seizures due to the death of Jett Travolta. I do not have a lot of detail to offer, but I know that some are interested in any people I've known with similar problems.

One of my college roommates, in the early 1970's was diagnosed as a child with epilepsy. Diagnosis was easy because epilepsy is the condition of having what used to be called "epileptic fits," now called "seizures." Because she had epilepsy as she grew older she could not risking a seizure while operating a car and thus could not learn to drive, obviously, but that was the only restriction placed upon her. She grew up on a farm and had a very healthy traditional upbringing and food habits, what is looked down upon by many today, but was a blessing in the times when people appreciated farm fresh food including milk and beef, eggs, bacon etc. One of her cooking specialties was a great rich chipped beef. Some people just develop epilepsy, it's one of the more puzzling medical conditions that humans have experienced for much of their history. She was not on any medications, since that just was not common back then, and actually she didn't even bother telling us "what to do" in any detail in case she had a seizure, just to make sure she didn't harm herself by thrashing around and wait it out. So most of the time the three of us who were her roommates just forgot about it.

Well, here is what is interesting. She never had a seizure in the four years in college, and it seems to have gone away on its own. Apparently it in some forms is something that can be outgrown. As the years went by we just kind of noticed one day, hey, you haven't had any seizures ever while you were in college, and she said "Yep." That's when she told us that sometimes it is outgrown.

Now, years later when I interned in a psychiatric outpatient facility I observed that I had no patients with epilepsy, but that symptoms of some illnesses include seizures. Those patients received medication for their underlying illness and for control of the seizures, and they did very well. I share this so you who are new to this subject realize that there is a disorder that is called epilepsy that is diagnosed as being the state of having epileptic seizures, and there are separate unrelated illnesses that have a range of symptoms, one of which may be seizures. I saw someone with epilepsy who grew up on a farm (lots of dirt but lots of healthy living) outgrow it, and I've seen patients with mental illnesses who have as one of their range of symptoms seizures, who benefited greatly from their medication, which basically gives them their life back.

So those are my first hand observations. I hope this was helpful to those of you new to this type of subject, and that you realize when you read the press you have to try to distinguish between the condition of having seizures and seizures as a symptom of other conditions. My roommate had a lot of class; she really was about the opposite of an obsessive drama queen that you could imagine and she was a totally cool role model for others. By the way, "back then" this type of thing was diagnosed and treated by your family doctor. Now it's pretty much assumed that it becomes a huge psychiatric thing. I think that is reasonable progress, but I'm just helping you to know that there was a time when people were much more blase about the childhood forms of it. The key was to maintain normal supportive life conditions for the child and not to do anything different in terms of food, living conditions and certainly not mental quakery of trying to "change" or "turn off" the seizures as it seems $cientology does with its toolkit of quakery and abuse.