Jacqueline French, MD, FAAN
Professor of Neurology, Chief Medical and Innovation Officer, Epilepsy Foundation
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020, uncertainty prevailed, especially among those living with epilepsy and other chronic disorders.
My colleagues and fellow healthcare professionals searched for answers, looking to develop epilepsy-specific guidelines and recommendations to help keep patients safe and their disease under control during these uncertain times.
Epilepsy experts from around the world collaborated to write “Keeping people with epilepsy safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” a paper that was published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology. This was important because while COVID-19 does not affect patients with epilepsy at a higher rate than the general population, there are factors that can put them more at risk.
For example, those with focal impaired seizures could experience an altered state of awareness and be unable to follow safety protocols like maintaining social distance. A family member or caregiver can accompany those patients to help keep them safe.
Keeping patients safe
Ultimately, keeping epilepsy patients safe involves preventing breakthrough seizures and, if a seizure happens, preventing the patient from ending up in the emergency department. Here are three ways that caregivers and physicians can help patients with epilepsy stay safe and out of emergency departments:
- Ensure medication adherence: The pandemic has disrupted routines, so check in to make sure patients are taking their medications consistently and on the right schedule.
- Get medication in advance: A one- to three-month supply of medications can help cut down on pharmacy trips and keep patients out of hospitals.
- Create an at-home action plan for breakthrough seizures: This plan can involve getting an oral or other type of rescue medication, so patients have something to use at home in case of an impending seizure emergency.
Epilepsy and the vaccine
People with epilepsy may be anxious about getting vaccinated because the development of some epilepsies has been inappropriately attributed to vaccines. However, rest assured that there is no link between vaccines and epilepsy. For some people, epilepsy gets worse with fever, which is a possible side effect of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In this case, it is important that patients see their doctor and discuss methods to appropriately manage fever so they can get the vaccine.
The pandemic has been long and hard, but the arrival of effective vaccines gives us hope for a safer and healthier future.