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National Epilepsy Awareness Week: Does brain injury increase the risk of epilepsy?

Every year, charities, hospitals and individuals get involved in National Epilepsy Awareness Week.  The campaign, which takes place from 20 to 26 May this year, raises awareness of epilepsy, who’s affected and what can be done to help those who have the condition.  

As a specialist serious injury solicitor, I've represented individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injury, and subsequently face a risk of developing epilepsy, or have already developed epilepsy as a result of their brain injury. As a result, I recognise the importance of us all trying to have a better understanding of the condition and what it can mean for those impacted. 

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the brain and causes recurring seizures or fits.  More than 600,000 people in the UK live with it, and it can affect people of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. 

How can I support someone with epilepsy?

We can all learn to recognise the symptoms of a seizure, as well as knowing what to do if a seizure occurs. Helpful guidance published by the Epilepsy Society includes the following - 

  • 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 mouth;
  • Call an ambulance if it is the person’s first seizure, the seizure lasts for more than five minutes or if the person does not regain consciousness or has a series of seizures without fully regaining consciousness between them.

How are brain injury and epilepsy linked?

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 stop. Others may go on to experience seizures on a continued basis, or begin to have seizures in the months or years after the injury. 

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 the longer a person remains seizure-free, their chances of developing epilepsy reduce.  

Points to consider as a legal professional acting for an individual with a brain injury 

It's important that careful consideration is given to the risk of developing epilepsy that an individual may face if they have not suffered a seizure since their injury.  Examination 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 the person in question has already developed epilepsy, the focus of the evidence must include how well maintained the condition is, if the medication is effective and whether it needs to be reviewed, and the impact that the seizures have on day-to-day life. Detailed witness statements from those who see and experience the impact are also essential.  

It must be ensured that their resulting needs are met via timely interim payments.

Thought must also be given to how the diagnosis impacts on the individual's 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 the neurologist instructed in the claim. 

If the condition has not yet developed, but the risk is flagged by the expert, thought must then be given as to how this is presented in the claim. Such as whether the evidence is 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.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise in supporting people and families affected by serious injury at the dedicated section on our website.