Accidents and Injuries in Epilepsy

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021

Epilepsy seizures can lead to a variety of accidents and injuries. Accidents may occur when someone falls and gets scraped up or hits their head. Someone may wreck their car if they have a seizure while driving. Or they may burn their hand if they have a seizure while cooking. Some common injuries are:1,2

  • Head injury due to falls or car accidents
  • Skin scrapes, cuts, and bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Drowning
  • Burns

Bumps, cuts, and bruises are the most common injuries. More serious injuries are more common in people who lose consciousness or fall.3

Serious accidents that lead to death may be more unusual, but even minor injuries are important. Minor injuries can lead to disability, missed work or school, and higher healthcare costs.2

How epilepsy leads to accidents and injuries

People may be vulnerable after a seizure if they are confused or unable to talk or take care of themselves for a while. For instance, someone who is confused may walk into a dangerous area. Or a person may not realize they injured themselves until much later.

Accidents and injuries do not happen because of seizures alone. Some epilepsy medicines can cause drowsiness, dizziness, or blurry vision.3

What is the risk?

Some studies show that injuries are much more likely in those with epilepsy compared to the general population. A Swedish study found people with epilepsy were 71 percent more likely to have an accidental injury. However, other studies show only certain types of epilepsy bring a higher risk of injury.1,4

Findings include:1-4

  • Those with drug-resistant epilepsy, brain tumors, stroke, diabetes, and mental illness are at highest risk of accidents.
  • Children younger than 15 are at lower risk of accidents than adults.
  • Most injuries happen within the first 2 years of an epilepsy diagnosis.
  • Falls, burns, drownings, and vehicle and bike accidents were the most common accidents.
  • Poorly controlled seizures lead to the most injuries.
  • People with epilepsy may be twice as likely to have a car accident.
  • Injuries from assault are more common in people with epilepsy.

Reducing the risk of injury

There are many steps you can take to reduce the chances of accidental injury with epilepsy. That said, unless someone has frequent or poorly controlled seizures, there is no need for too many restrictions on activities. Some simple safety measures include:5-7

  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Avoid glass tables.
  • Install wall-to-wall carpeting or soft flooring.
  • Avoid throw rugs and room clutter.
  • Cook using the microwave rather than the stove.
  • Let someone else cut and chop food.
  • Use unbreakable dishes.
  • Wear a helmet and knee and elbow pads during exercise.
  • Always have a buddy for sports, especially water sports.
  • Avoid treadmills. Walk or run outside instead.
  • Wear a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace.

It is a good idea to make sure all family and close friends know basic first aid and seizure first aid. Knowing the Heimlich maneuver and what to do during a seizure should be top priorities for loved ones.6

In addition to injuries due to accidents, other complications may also occur with epilepsy. These include:

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