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Results of epilepsy awareness study released

19 May 2003

Epilepsy is a condition that still suffers from an alarming lack of public awareness, according to a survey of the general public undertaken by the National Society For Epilepsy (NSE).

The survey shows that many people are unaware how common epilepsy is, would panic if they saw someone having a seizure in the street, and might react in a way that could either hurt the individual having the seizure, or harm the person trying to help.

For the survey, 1,015 UK adults aged 16 and over were interviewed. The survey sought to ascertain the level to which people appreciate the scale of epilepsy in relation to other neurological conditions, and its prevalence. It also sought to examine the degree to which people would make appropriate responses to witnessing someone having a seizure.

When asked what would be "an appropriate response" if they saw someone in the street having a seizure, 80 per cent said they should protect the person's head with something soft. However, 30 per cent said they would put something in the persons' mouth and 26 per cent would try and restrain the person. Doing either of these could endanger the person having the seizure.

Two per cent of respondents thought epilepsy was "caused by evil spirits" and the same number of people thought the condition was contagious. 66 per cent of people thought that flashing lights would trigger seizures for most people with epilepsy - when studies show that only 5 per cent of epilepsy with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy.

The NSE is targeting police forces, schools, universities and colleges with an information campaign. Margaret Thomas, Head of Communications at the NSE, said:

"There are still 1,000 epilepsy-related deaths each year and one way to reduce this is to increase awareness amongst people with the condition, the general public, and members of the emergency services.

"Police officers, in particular, need to be aware that a person with epilepsy needs to take their medication regularly in order to maintain seizure control. Withholding medication can be life-threatening."