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Many people still 'believe myths' about epilepsy

2 August, 2007

A new study from University College London suggests that many people believe potentially harmful myths about epilepsy.

A third of the 4,605 people asked would put something in the mouth of a
person having a seizure to stop them swallowing their tongue - but
doing so could block their airways and result in injury for both
people.

More than two thirds would call an ambulance
immediately, Epilepsy and Behavior journal reports, when epilepsy
organisations advise calling an ambulance only if you know it's the
person's first seizure, if the seizure last for over five minutes, if
the person is hurt or if the person has multiple seizures one after the
other.

The authors investigated four key myths
surrounding seizures: the need to put something in the person's mouth
to stop them swallowing their tongue, the need to call an ambulance,
and whether or not seizures involve foaming at the mouth or violence.

In
fact, foaming at the mouth and violence are not common symptoms of
seizures. But many people still believed these myths. People aged over
65 were more likely to believe the myths than younger people: 30-35 per
cent of those aged under 65 would put something in the mouth of someone
having a seizure while 57 per cent of respondents aged over 65 said
they would.

The authors also found that awareness of the
right things to do when someone has a seizure was higher in people who
knew someone with epilepsy.

Lead author Dr Sallie
Baxendale said it was "extremely worrying" that so many people were
still trying to put things in people's mouths during a seizure. "They
think the person is going to swallow their tongue, but you can't
actually do that."

"People having a seizure can bite
down very hard, so [putting] something in their mouth could damage
their teeth and leave them with a huge dental bill."

She
said the person trying to help could also get hurt. She added: "One
problem is that seizures look extremely dramatic, but actually for most
people it is something that happens occasionally and that they can
recover from relatively quickly. The only thing to do is keep them safe
and let the seizure run its course."

The study authors
suggested that the inaccurate depiction of epilepsy in films could help
perpetuate these myths, and may contribute to negative stereotypes
surrounding the condition.