Epilepsy and Work: 6 Common Questions

What to tell, and to whom, about a diagnosis

woman at work helping customers

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with epilepsy, you may wonder how this will affect your job. Should you tell your employer about the diagnosis? Will your co-workers look at you differently? Can you drive to work?

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“These are huge issues for my patients,” says epileptologist Dileep Nair, MD. “What I reinforce is that a high percentage of people with epilepsy function extremely well in their jobs.”

Below, Dr. Nair answers six common work-related questions his patients have:

1. Is this a career-ending diagnosis?

Dr. Nair: “The only professions that exclude people with epilepsy are airline pilots and interstate commercial truck drivers. The military also has medical restrictions that impact people with epilepsy.  At times, the frequency of seizures or severity of side effects from medications may cause patients with epilepsy to find that their ability to work becomes affected.”

2. What about other high-risk jobs?

Dr. Nair: “Any sort of job that requires your full attention and awareness becomes an issue, such as commercial driving, construction or utility work conducted at heights and public service positions like firefighting. Rules vary about how an employer can respond under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

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3. Do I have to inform my employer?

Dr. Nair: “In most cases, no, but you have to balance the consequence of having a seizure and being in a situation where your life or the life of someone else could be threatened. In low-risk settings, the decision to tell your employer is yours. If you are in a situation with a good employer, they should do the right thing and support you.”

4. What about working conditions I know might trigger a seizure?

Dr. Nair: “Since some varieties of epilepsy are connected with fatigue, for instance, people can often request a letter from their epileptologist recommending against shift work, overseas travel and other assignments that disrupt sleep patterns.”

5. How will I get to work?

Dr. Nair: “If my patients are unable to drive, it’s a significant challenge in a car-reliant culture. They often rely on the help of a family member, or they ask a co-worker to carpool or they may even move closer to public transportation.”

6. Won’t people treat me differently at work?

Dr. Nair: “The stigma at work is a major problem because people may have a poor understanding of epilepsy and can make judgments that aren’t well-deserved.  I usually recommend that patients find someone at work they can trust and educate them on first aid for seizures just in case, rather than broadcast it across the office.”

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More information

Request Epilepsy Patient Guide
Cleveland Clinic Epilepsy Center

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