Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stress and seizures

One of Kathryn Sykes's biggest fears is that someone will stick a spoon in her mouth when she's having a seizure.

"Because that could break my teeth or I could choke on that," said Sykes, who occasionally suffers from tonic-chronic seizures. "It's a complete myth that you could swallow your tongue."

But since the 26-year-old was diagnosed with epilepsy eight years ago, she's learned how to better handle stress related to a chronic, uncontrolled condition. "That's a major thing with epilepsy that's really difficult, is the lack of predictability and the lack of control," said Sykes, community development coordinator with the B.C. Epilepsy Society. "Essentially, what a seizure is, is losing control on what your brain's doing in one way or another for a little while and so, as you can imagine, that's pretty upsetting."

Tonic-chronic seizures were once called grand mal, which is French for "big bad." Now they're called tonic for stiffening, and chronic for shaking.

Knowing how to cope with daily strains is especially important to people who have epilepsy, because stress can trigger seizures. That's why the B.C. Epilepsy Society, a non-profit charitable organization, is presenting an April 17 talk by psychologists Josef Zaide and Audrey Ho on stress management and seizures. The talk is part of the organization's lecture series.

Zaide said most people are children when they are diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological disorder for which the symptoms are seizures. The diagnosis and disorder can be especially rough on teenagers who don't want to stand out from their peers. And having uncontrollable seizures can mean a person with epilepsy can't drive, an important milestone often equated with independence for adolescents.

Sykes also has seizures that briefly affect her speach and comprehension, which can be awkward in social situations.

But Zaide says the stress of trying to keep the condition a secret because of stigma leads to increased anxiety.

Zaide and Ho recommend adopting a regular exercise or relaxation routine and examining one's beliefs that could be contributing to stress.

Zaide noted many successful people, including Neil Young, Danny Glover and Agatha Christie, have or have had epilepsy.

The stress management talk is April 17 in the Chan Auditorium in the Education and Research Building at the Children's and Women's Health Centre, 4480 Oak St. It's free to B.C. Epilepsy Society members and $10 otherwise. Register at 604-875-6704 or For more information, see


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