A boy standing in a crowd

Being young and having epilepsy isn't easy.

Living with seizures isn’t only scary, it can make situations like starting university daunting. Read on for advice about coping with epilepsy when you’re young.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which people experience recurrent seizures. At the bottom of this article you can find out more about epileptic seizures and how to help someone who’s having one.

I don’t want to have epilepsy. It sucks.

First the good news – many people who develop epilepsy before they’re 20 grow out of it.

But still – right now you want to be like everyone else, and the threat of seizures means there are some rite-of-passage things you won’t be able to do.

Try and make sure you don’t see epilepsy as who you are. You have plenty of other characteristics, talents, hobbies and interests to define yourself by – thinking about it this way can help prevent epilepsy dominating your life.

It’s important to watch out for your health and this includes your mental health. If your epilepsy is making you feel down – talk to someone you trust, your GP, or an epilepsy support group, so you feel less alone.

Things you need to be careful about if you have epilepsy:

Driving – It is illegal for you to drive a car if you’ve had a seizure in the last year. It’s your legal duty to tell the DVLA if you have one. In the meantime, make friends with public transport and your mates with cars. And, hey, think of all the environment you’re protecting!

Drinking alcohol – You’re usually able to drink a small amount of alcohol if you have epilepsy – provided you’ve not abused alcohol in the past (i.e. been an alcoholic and had alcohol-induced seizures). However, you can’t binge drink as this increases your chances of having a seizure. If you’re on medicine for your epilepsy, alcohol can make it less effective. It also means you feel drunk more quickly.

Going clubbing – If you have photosensitive epilepsy – where your seizures are triggered by flashing lights – clubbing can be tricky. Avoid any clubs that have strobe lights, you can usually ring them and ask what lights they use. It’s better to stick to bars – and – hey – you’re not missing out on much. Just the same song being played at exactly 1am, across every club in the country.

Moving into flats or house shares – It’s worth telling your new roomies about your epilepsy so they know what to do if you have a seizure. The same goes for work colleagues and teachers at your college or uni.

Controlling epileptic seizures

For 70% of people with epilepsy, seizures are completely prevented by medication. Some drugs have side effects like drowsiness, acne or weight gain. Alternative therapies may help if they combat stress and encourage relaxation.

The best way to control your epilepsy is a mixture of medication, knowing your triggers, keeping a healthy and active lifestyle, and keeping in regular touch with your GP.

Keeping a healthy and active lifestyle has plenty of other benefits too. Check out our guide for how to get fit fast for some tips.

What’s an epileptic seizure like?

A seizure happens when there’s an interruption between the electrical signals in the brain – upsetting the balance, or causing a sudden storm of abnormal electrical activity.

Seizures can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, too much alcohol or, in a few people, flickering lights. But often they just happen for no obvious reason.

What happens during an epileptic seizure?

Seizures come in many forms. Generalised seizures affect the whole brain. Others affect only one area and are called partial.

What’s a generalised seizure like?

In most cases, sufferers completely lose consciousness, and can:

  • Twitch and jerk uncontrollably, as if they are being electrocuted
  • Have all their muscle relax suddenly and drop to the floor
  • Last between one and three minutes generally
  • Make sufferers wet themselves

What’s a partial seizure like?

Sufferers stay awake but can’t stop what’s happening, which can include:

  • An intense feeling of deja-vu,
  • Feeling dizzy, sick or numb,
  • Sweating, a tingling sensation, or twitching up your body,

You can have a complex partial seizure, when you enter a kind of trance and make repeated movements like smacking your lips. People around you may think you’re drunk.

In both types of seizures, sometimes sufferers can detect that they’re about to have one. These are called ‘auras’. Auras can’t stop a seizure, but it gives you time to warn people around you, or to get out of a dangerous situation.

How to look after someone having an epileptic seizure

Seizures are not usually dangerous in themselves, but the person may be injured as they fall or wander into danger from traffic or something. If you see someone having a seizure, guide them away from danger but don’t try to wake or restrain them. If they’ve fallen, put them in the recovery position once jerking stops. Cushion their head but never try to put anything between their teeth. Don’t call an ambulance unless the seizure lasts more than five minutes.

Are you affected by epilepsy? We would love to hear from you. Share your experiences with other young people on our discussion boards.

Just because you have epilepsy, it doesn’t mean you can’t get out there and enjoy the things that other people do. Epilepsy Action has a detailed list of how to stay active and look after yourself here.

For more in-depth advice, as well as a video explaining how to help when someone is having a seizure, go to Epilepsy Action.

Take a look at the rest of our articles on medical conditions and body problems here.

Next Steps

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 22-Nov-2022