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    Default Understanding Epilepsy

    I freely admit to knowing only what my textbooks and training have taught me....

    Understanding epilepsy
    Common brain seizure disorder still misunderstood by many

    Katherine Dedyna Times Colonist Friday, February 11, 2005

    Isa Milman thought she knew just about all she needed to know about epilepsy and seizure control. Program co-ordinator at the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson's Centre for the past eight years, she holds a master's degree in neuroscience and taught at McGill University for 10 years. So how much could she learn from Dr. Robert Mittan, who happened to give a seminar in Alberta last year that she attended?

    "I learned so much I couldn't believe it," Milman recalls. "I was overwhelmed. I was stunned." And now she's thrilled that Mittan, a North Carolina neuropsychologist, will present the same intensive empowerment seminar in Victoria.

    The 16-hour session March 5-6 at Camosun College is aimed at maximizing the heath and well-being of some of the estimated 5,000 people on Vancouver Island who have seizure disorders.

    The cost of Mittan's presentation will be significantly underwritten by $3,000.00 raised by the local Craw family, whose son, David, drowned in 1996 after suffering a seizure and falling into a pool. He was 39.

    Epilepsy is "an issue that every family will have to face," said Mittan, a clinical neuropsychologist, in a phone interview from North Carolina. Epilepsy commonly shows up in people under 20 and those over 65. As the population ages an estimated one in 22 people will develop seizures.

    "Very often, people have very little idea of potential treatment approaches," he says.

    For the past 21 years, Mittan has taught thousands of people with epilepsy and their families how to maximize their control of the disease. The Seizures & Epilepsy Education (S.E.E.) Program is already used to train physicians at UCLA, Northwestern and Vanderbilt universities and credited with significant decreases in the fear and hazardous self-medicating practices by patients.

    The greatest fear of people with epilepsy is death -- not the social stigma and embarrassment of having seizures in public, says Mittan.

    "They're afraid they could die from their seizures or suffer brain damage. We realized that their quality of life is directly related to the level of fear that they have."

    Which is why he wants to dispel that fear. "There's very little evidence that regular seizures cause any impairment in the long run, even convulsive seizures," he says. But one kind, status epilepticus, which involves prolonged seizures, is responsible for up to 42,000 deaths annually among 2.5 million North Americans with epilepsy.

    There are more than 2,000 kinds of seizures; some are major convulsions that convince parents their children are about to die; others are so subtle they're not noticed even by the person experiencing them.

    "He (Mittan) teaches in a way that kids over 12 can understand what he's talking about and yet physicians in the U.S. can get continuing medical education credits for attending his seminars," says Milman.

    It's 16 hours of how to make the best of epilepsy for patients and their families through proper medication (a major issue), diminishing psycho-social worries, behavioural modification and simple dietary tricks.

    Ironically, the way people take their anti-seizure medication is liable to increase the chance of having more seizures, says Mittan. "The therapeutic range has to be precise," he stresses, and it is liable to serious fluctuations if certain foods, other drugs or even antacids are taken. The standardized dose isn't for everyone.

    "Every body is different. We cover each and every medication in detail. They can learn what is exactly right for them," he says.

    Medication can render birth control pills inactive and Tums and other calcium sources can interfere with Dilantin, a common anti-seizure drug. Even a hefty bowl of fortified Total cereal can cause a serious drop in the level of anti-convulsants in the blood and lead to breakthrough seizures.

    "Grapefruit juice is a great way to get toxic on the medication," he adds, because it interferes with drug metabolism by the liver.

    Mittan will also discuss other treatments from surgery, diet, biofeedback and stimulation of the vagus nerve in the cranium.

    Cost is $25 for members of the local society; $75 for those who are not and $5 for those on limited incomes. Pre-registration required.


    Alexander The Great

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    Sir Isaac Newton


    Thomas Edison

    Alfred Nobel

    Charles Dickens

    Soren Kierkegaard

    Richard Burton

    Source: Epilepsy Toronto


    1. It's a good idea to put a spoon into the mouth of people having seizures so they won't swallow their tongues. Wrong. Although it's what 49 per cent of people surveyed by the American Epilepsy Foundation responded, it does nothing to help the person breathe and can break teeth. To ensure the airway of anyone having a seizure is not obstructed, roll them onto their side.

    2. Epilepsy is a psychological condition. Although 36 per cent of young adults surveyed believe this, it's wrong. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder.

    3. People with epilepsy are more aggressive than others. Not true, but they may experience mood swings due to medication or lack of acceptance.

    4. Epilepsy is rare. Wrong. It's the third most common neurological disorder after stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

    5. A person undergoing a seizure is throwing a fit. Wrong. Seizures are the outward manifestation of brief disturbances in the brain's electrical activity.

    Sources. U.S. Epilepsy Foundation, Epilepsy Association of Australia, geocities.com


    What: Seizures and Epilepsy Education Program

    Where: Camosun College, Lansdowne Campus, Fisher Building Room 100

    When: March 5-6, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

    Information: Call 475-6677 or e-mail help@vepc.bc.ca

    Ran with fact boxes "Five Myths About Epilepsy", "Seizure Seminars" and "Ten Famous People Who Had Epilepsy", which have been appended to the story.

    Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005
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  2. #2
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    Jan 2004

    Thumbs up

    Thanks, Malahat. I learned something today

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    Thanks for the post. This is an important issue for people to know about. I used to work with persons with disabilities, and a lot of them had grand mal seizures. It was always so important to calm them when they came back around, because sometimes they'd be scared and panicky. Some would vomit during the seizure, too, so I always made sure they were on their side, like you said. A number of them also wore crash helmets to protect them if they were to fall.

    Of course, most people with epilepsy aren't disabled and blend into the population just like the rest of us, thankfully.

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    Nov 2004

    Red face

    Thankyou for giving valuable information regarding seizures. My only sister had epilepsy, and she died from an idiopathic siezure that caused heart failure at 23y/o. We often see people on seizure calls at the postdictal stage, and forget how serious they can be. Many of our seizure calls are pt. refusals, and that can cause a lax attitude towards them to develope. Seizures can be very serious, so again--Thankyou for the info!

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