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National Epilepsy Awareness Week: Understanding more about epilepsy and brain injury

By Alice Hall, an expert serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

Each year, charities, hospitals and individuals get involved in National Epilepsy Awareness Week. This year the campaign aims to raise awareness for those affected by epilepsy, what epilepsy is, who’s affected and what can be done to help those who suffer from this condition.

Approximately 500,000 people in England are diagnosed with epilepsy. It can affect people of all ages, from newborns to the elderly.

As a specialist serious injury solicitor, I've represented individuals who've suffered traumatic brain injury, and subsequently face a risk of developing epilepsy, or develop epilepsy as a result of their brain injury. 

As legal professionals representing individuals who've suffered brain injuries, we therefore recognise the importance of us all trying to have a better understanding of the condition and what it can mean for those affected.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the brain and causes recurring seizures or fits.

How can I support someone with epilepsy?

For those not affected by epilepsy, we can all learn to recognise the symptoms of a seizure, as well as knowing what to do if a seizure occurs. The Epilepsy Society has really helpful guidance. 

Its advice is :-

  • Stay calm and give lots of reassurance
  • Check for danger – move anything away from the person that could harm them
  • Cushion their head with a pillow
  • Roll the person into the recovery position
  • Note the time the seizure starts and stops
  • Never put anything into their move
  • Call an ambulance if it is the person’s first seizure, the seizure lasts for more than five minutes or if the person doesn't regain consciousness or has a series of seizures without fully regaining consciousness between them

How are brain injury and epilepsy linked?

While there are many causes of brain injury, one cause can be following a traumatic brain injury.

Brain injury can cause scarring which can make the signals that move around the brain work differently.  When this happens, there are bursts of uncontrollable activity that can cause seizures.

Some people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury may experience seizures in the first few days after injury, but these can then stop. Other people may go on to experience seizures on a continued basis. Other people can begin to have seizures in the months or years after the injury. The seizures can be very different; some are far more obvious to both the person and observers than others.

The likelihood of developing epilepsy following a brain injury varies depending on the type and severity of brain injury. It's also generally accepted that if a person remains seizure free, their chances of developing epilepsy reduce.  

What to consider as a legal professional acting for someone with a brain injury? 

As a specialist brain injury solicitor, it's vital that careful consideration is given to the risk of developing epilepsy that the individual may face if they haven't suffered a seizure since their injury. Careful consideration of the medical records and the medication prescribed is needed as is a thorough assessment and analysis of the risk by a neurologist with the relevant experience.

If my client has already developed epilepsy, the focus of the evidence is on how well maintained this condition is; is the medication effective? Does it need to be reviewed if not? What impact do the seizures have on my client’s day to day life?

Detailed witness statements from those who see and experience that impact are also essential. 

Careful consideration must be paid to ensuring that their resulting needs are met via timely interim payments in the litigation if liability is admitted or if not, by seeking to engage the insurer under the terms of the Rehabilitation Code of Best Practice.

Thought must be given to how their diagnosis impacts on, for example, their medical needs, employment, care and equipment needs, and accommodation requirements. This process is one that must be guided by the medical evidence and exploring those questions with a neurological expert.

If the condition hasn't yet developed, but the risk is flagged by the expert, thought must then be given as to how this is presented in the claim. Is the evidence sufficient to enable a provisional damages order to be sought?  

If the client is a child with an otherwise normal life expectancy, they may have a significantly elevated risk over an extended period. If the client is an older adult, the risk of developing a dementing illness (as well as epilepsy) may also be a factor to consider after brain injury.

It's vital that expert advice is sought so that the full extent and impact of the condition or the risk of developing the condition is investigated.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by brain injury whether through an accident, medical negligence or following an assault at our dedicated brain injury claims section.