We all live with risks in our daily lives. Having epilepsy can increase the risk of injury. The amount of risk for injury depends on the type of seizures, the frequency of the seizures, and the kind of activities the person is involved in.
It's important that safety measures for people with epilepsy minimize the potential for injury but also maximize the person's ability to perform the same activities as other people. Having a full and happy life is important to us all!
General Safety Tips & Guidelines:
- Family, friends and selected coworkers should know about the possibiliy of a seizure and what to do if a seizure occurs.
- Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that lists important medical information.
- Use shatterproof containers as much as possible.
- Do not smoke.
- Do not light fires without another person's assistance.
- Do not use stepstools or ladders, and do not climb to high places.
- Do not use space heaters that could overturn.
- Use powertools and motorized equipment that have a safety switch that will stop the machine if the handle is released.
- Only use the stove when someone is nearby. Use the back burner of the stove to prevent accidental burns. Use the microwave oven instead, if possible.
- Limit the use of knives and other sharp objects; instead use a food processor or chopper. Purchase precut foods or prepared meals.
- Use the shower instead of baths. Never take a bath if home alone.
- Use tub rails or grab bars. Use non-skid strips on the bottom of the shower or tub.
- Keep the bathroom door unlocked. Hang the bathroom door so it opens outward instead of inward so people can get into the bathroom if help is needed.
- Use an electric razor to avoid cuts, and use electric equipment away from water.
- Use protective coverings and materials, such as shatterproof mirrors and shower doors, wall-to-wall carpet, and covers on faucets, and also minimize sharp edges.
Driving can be extremely dangerous for any person who has experienced a seizure. Therefore, people who experience a seizure may be restricted from driving.
- The laws which disqualify someone from obtaining a driver's license or driving vary from state to state.
- In the state of Illinois, a person with epilepsy can obtain a driver’s license if he or she submits a doctor's statement certifying that the individual can safely operate an automobile. There is no specific seizure-free period required. The person must agree to remain under the care of his or her physician and adhere to treatment. The physician must report any change in condition that would impair the person’s ability to safely operate an automobile.
- Read more information about driving at the Epilepsy Foundation.
Exercise & Sports Safety
- Physical activity is good for everyone. Very rarely can exercise trigger seizures. Certain activities may need special accommodations. The greater the frequency and severity of an individual’s seizures, the greater the need to limit or modify physical activity. The doctor or nurse can give instructions about which activities to avoid.
- Never swim or use exercise equipment, such as a treadmill, alone. Use the “buddy system”—exercise with another person who knows about the possibility of a seizure and who knows what to do if a seizure occurs.
- Always wear high-quality and properly-fitting protective equipment, such as a life vest, a helmet, elbow and knee pads and protective eyeglasses or goggles. When riding a bike, avoid busy streets; ride on paths or side streets.
- Activities such as scuba diving, rock or mountain climbing, skydiving and hang gliding should be avoided by people with uncontrolled seizures.
- People with epilepsy are protected from discrimination by both state and federal laws. Please contact the Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago for further details.
- People with epilepsy are successfully employed in a variety of jobs. Some job-related safety concerns are: the use of machinery, heights, stress, and work hours that deprive sleep. Safety devices, such as helmets and harnesses, and automatic shutoff devices should be used.
- Coworkers and employers should know seizure first aid.
Safety Issues for Parents with Epilepsy
- Feed, nurse, dress, and change your infant while sitting on the floor in a well-protected area.
- Childproof your house as much as possible. Use child safety gates to prevent a child from falling down stairs or to prevent your child from wandering in the event that you have a seizure.
- As your child grows, explain what seizures are in terms that your child can understand. Teach your child how to call 911 in an emergency. Some people perform “seizure drills” with their child.
Avoid Situations that Can Trigger Seizures
- Not taking the anti-seizure medication can cause seizures to occur. Taking the medications as prescribed is very important.
- Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use; it can lower the seizure threshold, which means it is easier for a seizure to occur. Alcohol and illicit drugs may interact with the seizure medications and make the medications either less effective or increase the side effects such as sleepiness. Alcohol and illicit drug consumption also affects sleep by reducing the amount of deep sleep.
- Sleep is important to us all, and adults should get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. People with epilepsy do not need additional hours of sleep. However, the lack of sleep can increase the chances of a seizure occurring.
- Stress and stressful life situations can increase the chance of seizures occurring. Try to reduce stress as much as possible.
Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)
- Patients with uncontrolled epilepsy have a 24 times higher risk of dying unexpectedly than the general population. The mechanisms for SUDEP are unclear, but it often occurs at night and is associated with convulsive seizures.
- As of today, the only way to reliably prevent SUDEP is to be free of seizures. This emphasizes the need to be very diligent about taking medications as prescribed. For patients with intractable seizures who are candidates for epilepsy surgery, SUDEP is one of the reasons to take the risk of surgery.