November is Epilepsy Awareness Month

Eva Philips, Staff writer

Now that November is here, it may become easy to get drawn into the excitement of the coming holidays. However, November is also Epilepsy Awareness Month, a time to learn about a condition that affects many people around the world.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation website, epilepsy is a condition that affects roughly 3.4 million Americans. It is the fourth-most common neurological disease. Sara Ochterski, a junior Biology major at Mercyhurst, was diagnosed with epilepsy last year, though she started having seizures at the age of eight.

Because seizures present in a variety of ways, sometimes with-out the physical convulsions that are commonly associated with seizures, Ochterski did not recognize that what she experienced throughout her child-hood were, in fact, seizures due to epilepsy.

Now knowing the extent of her condition and that it is much more than people may realize, she hopes to be an advocate for others, especially during the month of November.

“People don’t want to talk about it and they don’t know a lot about it,” Ochterski said.

Epilepsy causes unpredictable seizures, and usually, the cause of epilepsy is unknown. Seizures come in a variety of forms, with symptoms ranging from loss of vision to convulsions, and occur due to abnormal electrical signals in the brain, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Often, seizures have a specific trigger. For example, some epilepsy patients have photosensitive epilepsy, which is triggered by bright or flashing lights. Other triggers may be related to diet, sleep deprivation or illness. However, some seizures appear to be completely random with no obvious trigger.

Ochterski also wants people to understand that epilepsy is not only about seizures.

“(There are) side effects of medication, the recovery period after seizures. It makes you less employable,” Ochterski said. “It’s frustrating, sometimes, the social aspects and the misconceptions of people with epilepsy.”

The condition can be treated. Patients are treated based on the types of seizures they experience and other characteristics of their condition. Because epilepsy presents differently in each patient, treatment options vary. There are many medications that treat epilepsy, as well as dietary treatments and electrical stimulation.

Since her diagnosis, Ochterski has been on medication to manage her epilepsy, but the treatment has had some negative effects on her schooling.

“When they start you on the medication, there’s a lot of side effects, which makes it hard-er to retain information and makes you tired more often,” Ochterski said.

She also addressed common misconceptions about epilepsy.

“You can’t tell if someone has epilepsy just by looking at them,” Ochterski said. “It’s not just ‘falling on the floor and shaking’ seizures. There’s a lot of seizures you would never know you’re having.”

Her experience highlights the importance of Epilepsy Awareness Month.

Though Mercyhurst currently does not have any events planned in honor of Epilepsy Awareness Month, Ochterski notes two ways to show sup-port for Epilepsy Awareness: wearing a purple ribbon or participating in the Purple Pump-kin Project, in which those supporting Epilepsy Awareness paint leftover Halloween pumpkins purple for the month of November.

Ochterski is hopeful that by learning about and understanding epilepsy, the Laker community can help to reduce the taboo surrounding epilepsy and better support those with the condition.