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6 epilepsy myths and facts

A tennis player tosses a ball up for a serve.

Understanding epilepsy can help you live your best with the condition or support someone else who has epilepsy. Learn the facts behind a few epilepsy myths.

It's easy to get confused about epilepsy, a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. Confusion can lead to myths and misunderstandings that may get in the way of living your best with epilepsy or supporting someone who has the condition.

See if you can tell which of these six statements about epilepsy are myths—and learn the facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Epilepsy Foundation and other experts.

1. Myth or fact: It's always obvious when someone with epilepsy is having a seizure.

Myth. Sometimes it can be hard to tell when someone is having a seizure. Some seizures cause a person to fall and shake. They're called generalized seizures, and they're the seizures that most people associate with epilepsy. But there are many types of seizures. With some seizures, a person may just look like they're confused, daydreaming or staring at something that isn't there.

2. Myth or fact: People with epilepsy can't play sports.

Myth. Most people who have epilepsy can safely participate in sports and fitness activities, which have many benefits. But it's true that some sports may pose a risk of injury if you have a seizure. For example, this is why people with epilepsy should not swim alone. Tennis, basketball and track are just a few sports that are generally OK to play.

3. Myth or fact: People can swallow their tongues during seizures.

Myth. The tongue is attached and cannot be swallowed during a seizure. So if you see someone having a seizure, you should never put anything in their mouth. Doing so could actually harm the person. Find out how to help someone who is having a seizure.

4. Myth or fact: Epilepsy can affect anyone at any age.

Fact. Epilepsy can develop in children and adults. Some causes of epilepsy include infections, stroke, brain tumors and traumatic brain injuries that result from accidents. But for many people with epilepsy, the cause is unknown.

5. Myth or fact: People with epilepsy can't drive.

Myth. People who have epilepsy can get a driver's license. They usually have to show that they have been seizure-free for a specific period of time, which varies from state to state. Some people with frequent seizures may not be able to drive.

6. Myth or fact: Epilepsy can be treated.

Fact. Epilepsy can't be cured, but for most people, it can be controlled with anti-seizure medicines, surgery or other treatments.

Learn more about epilepsy

There's a lot more to know about epilepsy. To get started, check out our Epilepsy health topic center.

Reviewed 10/18/2022

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