News and Publications

National Epilepsy Week 2022

Posted: 23/05/2022


This year, National Epilepsy Week runs from 23-29 May. The event aims to build awareness and increase understanding of epilepsy - a common but potentially serious neurological condition. Over 600,000 people in the UK are living with epilepsy, which equates to almost one in every 100 people.

This article explains what epilepsy is, how it affects people, and how Penningtons Manches Cooper helps those living with an avoidable epilepsy condition arising from clinical negligence.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition that causes seizures in the brain resulting in disruption to brain functionality and an uncontrolled increase in electrical activity. This activity interrupts messages in the brain travelling to the nervous system, which can cause odd sensations, thoughts and movements throughout the body.

Contrary to what is commonly understood, epilepsy is not just one condition, but rather a name given to a group of conditions. All of these conditions have one thing in common: the individual affected has a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain. This means that while some people may have a single epileptic seizure, they will never be diagnosed with epilepsy because they do not have a tendency to have these seizures. However, while all people with epilepsy experience recurring epileptic seizures, the extent to which they do so varies significantly - some individuals having only two or three in their lifetime.

There are over 40 different types of seizure. Please see here for information on some of the most common types of seizure. Some people with epilepsy only ever experience one type of seizure, others will experience multiple types.

Causes

The potential causes of epilepsy are still being researched and, in some individual cases, doctors are unsure of the cause. However, possible reasons for the condition are:

  • genetics - people can have either an inherited genetic tendency or a non-inherited genetic tendency;
  • damage to the brain, which may be caused by trauma or infection;
  • structural abnormalities in the brain, caused by problems in the way the brain developed in the womb; and
  • brain tumours.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing the condition can be difficult; there is no single test that can be used. Instead, a combination of tests and scans are performed to gather information that will either point towards or away from epilepsy. The condition can never be conclusively confirmed or ruled out by tests and scans alone. Rather, a diagnosis is based on test results and an examination of what happens to the individual before, during and after a seizure, as well as their previous medical history (in particular, circumstances that might have resulted in brain damage).

Additionally, there are some conditions that cause seizures and can look like epilepsy, making the condition even harder to diagnose. For instance, very low blood sugar in people with diabetes can result in a seizure. However, these are not epileptic seizures, as they do not start in the brain, and can be distinguished.

Anyone can develop epilepsy at any time of their life. However, it is most commonly diagnosed in children and in people over 65. Diagnosis can be a difficult time for some, especially if diagnosed later in life. Those close to individuals going through a diagnosis should look for signs of deteriorating mental health and provide as much support as possible.

Treatment

The main treatment for epilepsy is anti-seizure medication (ASM). While it cannot ‘cure’ the condition, it is often effective at ‘controlling’ it, and stopping epileptic seizures from occurring.

There are also other treatment options for people whose seizures are not controlled by ASM, including nerve stimulation, adopting a ketogenic diet and the use of medically approved (legal) cannabis-based products.

Impact

Individuals living with epilepsy have to be mindful of potential seizure triggers and make careful lifestyle decisions. This often entails avoiding sleep deprivation, keeping alcohol to a minimum and working in low stress environments. However, triggers will vary for each individual.

While it is a life changing condition, fortunately, for many, their seizures are well-controlled with medication, meaning the condition has a minimal impact on their lives.

For those where the condition is not well-controlled, given the unpredictability of the seizures, epilepsy can complicate many aspects of their life. For example, it can heavily restrict their occupation, prohibit them from driving and limit their ability to travel abroad, especially to places that might result in jet lag.

Epilepsy as a result of clinical negligence

The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper works with many individuals suffering from epilepsy which could have been avoided. For instance, we help individuals who have suffered brain injuries, perhaps due to negligence at the time of their birth or during a medical procedure, following which they have developed seizures and been diagnosed with epilepsy.

As a result of the epilepsy diagnosis, their lives are upturned. For instance, there are situations where the diagnosis has immediately put an end to their career due to medical requirements. In other cases, even where the diagnosis has not debarred them from a particular occupation, the diagnosis has meant they have had to be careful to avoid potential triggers, meaning their condition effectively rules out occupations with high stress environments and irregular shift patterns.

Rosa Shand, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, comments: “In cases where clinical negligence has resulted in an epilepsy diagnosis, we have helped individuals to bring a claim against those responsible for the negligent care they received, to seek compensation that will help place them in the position they should have been in had the negligence, and therefore their epilepsy, not occurred. For instance, we have helped them claim damages for lost earnings and additional care, and assistance they will now need throughout their lives.”

There is still much to learn about epilepsy and research into the condition continues. No two people with epilepsy will share the same experience and so, during this year’s National Epilepsy Week, Epilepsy Society are inviting people with epilepsy to share their story. Penningtons Manches Cooper supports this initiative, the details of which can be found here.

If you or someone you know have developed epilepsy following a medical procedure, the team at Penningtons Manches Cooper is happy to provide initial legal advice and have a confidential, no obligation discussion.


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