Ted C.* was 24 when he wrecked his car. He was rushed to a hospital emergency room by ambulance. Although he wasn’t badly injured, he seemed disoriented and didn’t know what had happened. As a nurse questioned him, he became upset. The bright lights agitated him further. The hospital staff assumed that Ted was intoxicated, but his tests came back negative for alcohol and drugs. Ted was having partial-onset seizures, but since he didn’t lose consciousness or convulse, the trained medical personnel didn’t realize it.
Despite all their know-how, emergency room personnel don’t always have the expertise or experience to recognize and diagnose epilepsy. And yet, one study found that seizures accounted for about one million emergency department (ED) visits annually.
If a patient admitted to the ED is experiencing seizures, he may be unable to communicate his medical history. And if this is his first seizure, he’ll likely be as confused as the attending physician. Furthermore, the stress of being admitted to a hospital, asked to fill out forms and told to wait for treatment could aggravate the patient’s epilepsy, triggering more seizures.
Diagnosing epilepsy can be tricky—especially for medical professionals who are not specialists in the field. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, seizures may go unchecked and potentially cause more harm. Education is key.
What You Can Do
If you or someone you love has epilepsy, you can help. Use your knowledge to provide insight and create a deeper understanding of epilepsy in the ED.
Work with your local Epilepsy Foundation affiliate or epilepsy support group to organize an awareness program at your local ER, urgent care center or fire department. Ask your epileptologist or neurologist to participate, too. Medical personnel and first responders who are not epilepsy specialists can benefit from hearing your firsthand account of what it’s like to have a seizure. Administrators, lab technicians, physicians, nurses and nurses’ aides all interact with incoming patients, so there’s an opportunity to educate at each touch point.
You can find a wealth of information to share with your local ED at epilepsy.com under the Information for Professionals: Emergency Department Care section.
By sharing the facts, you can help ensure that epilepsy is treated with greater understanding.
* Not his real name.
Written exclusivley for EpilepsyAdvocate.com.