Myths and Misconceptions

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

Myth #1: You can catch epilepsy from someone who has it.

Fact: Epilepsy is not contagious. You cannot "catch" it from another person.1

Myth #2: Falling down and jerking is the most common type of seizure.

Fact: Most people think of seizures as flailing, falling, and jerking. However, not all seizures look the same. Seizures may cause staring spells, brief muscle twitches, muscle weakness, goosebumps, or stillness. People may also clap or rub their hands, smack their lips, chew, or run. Some people’s seizures change from time to time.2

Myth #3: Epilepsy is rare.

Fact: Actually, epilepsy is fairly common. There are more people living with epilepsy in the United States than people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis combined.1

Myth #4: It runs in families.

Fact: Yes, some types of epilepsy are inherited. One study found people with a close relative with epilepsy were 3 times more likely to have it compared to those with no family history. The same study found generalized epilepsy passed to other generations more than focal epilepsy. Epilepsy occurred more often in the children of women with epilepsy than in men with epilepsy.3,4

Myth #5: It always has a known cause, like a head injury.

Fact: Only half of epilepsy cases have a known cause. If a cause can be found, the most common reasons are:5

  • Genetics
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Diabetes
  • High fever

Myth #6: Sudden death, or SUDEP, happens often.

Fact: SUDEP stands for sudden unexpected death in epilepsy. Actually, sudden death is somewhat rare. However, it is one of the scariest outcomes of epilepsy. About 1 out of every 1,000 people with epilepsy will die from SUDEP. SUDEP is more common than sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).6,7

Myth #7: People having a seizure are in danger of swallowing their tongues and choking.

Fact: You cannot swallow your tongue during a seizure. That is why you should not force anything into someone’s mouth when they are having a seizure. You can hurt someone by trying to force something into their mouth. You also should not restrain someone during a seizure. Yes, people having certain types of seizures may choke during the event, but this is due to swallowing saliva or food they were eating. You can help them once the seizure passes. Meanwhile, stay calm and by their side to keep them safe and follow seizure first aid steps.1

Myth #8: Seizures can always be controlled with medicine.

Fact: Many people with epilepsy respond well to anti-seizure drugs. However, current treatment options do not work for everyone. At least 1 million people in the United States have drug-resistant epilepsy. Drug-resistant epilepsy is epilepsy in which seizures are not controlled with treatment. It is also called refractory or intractable epilepsy.1

Myth #9: Flashing lights often trigger seizures.

Fact: Only 3 out of 100 people with epilepsy have seizures triggered by flashing lights. More common triggers are:8,9

  • Not taking anti-seizure drugs consistently or taking the wrong dose
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Alcohol use
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes (in women)
  • Low blood sugar
  • Infections (with or without a fever)

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