Why It’s Best to Accept an Epilepsy Diagnosis
When patients and families accept the diagnosis, they may embrace it as the “new normal” and focus on taking control.
Contributors: Elaine Wyllie, MD and Becky Bikat Tilahun, PhD
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Imagine a mother daydreaming about her son’s upcoming eighth-grade graduation as she drops him off at school. But later that day, she gets a phone call: He’s been taken to the hospital after experiencing a seizure in class. Soon after rushing to the emergency department, she learns he may have epilepsy based on abnormal results from a routine brain wave test, or EEG.
Such news may be traumatic for any parent. In the absence of familiarity with epilepsy, parents may be left to wonder about how it will change their child’s life trajectory. Many questions naturally come to mind. Will my child be able to function independently? Will she be able to go to college? Will epilepsy limit his career choices? Will she be able to marry and have children of her own if she so chooses? Epilepsy can cause significant stress and anxiety for everyone in the family, and the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the condition may intensify the challenge of accepting the diagnosis.
For most people experiencing epilepsy, seizures can be kept in bay with medications, surgery or other advanced procedures. But for 30 percent to 40 percent of patients, seizures may reappear without warning at unpredictable intervals. This unpredictability makes epilepsy a particularly stressful condition, and it is not uncommon for patients to feel anxious or depressed.
A new epilepsy diagnosis compels the patient and family to modify their lives. Attending regular visits with physicians, taking daily medication, not being able to drive at least temporarily – these changes can be life altering and may be met with emotional resistance, anger and denial of the new reality. Such denial of the condition may significantly complicate management.
Research has shown that being able to accept a diagnosis of epilepsy or other medical condition predicts a better outcome. Acceptance leads to proper attention to one’s health, greater willingness to cooperate with treatment protocols and higher likelihood of taking medications as prescribed. When patients and families accept the diagnosis, they may embrace it as the “new normal” and focus on taking control. They are more apt to seek appropriate resources and additional support systems.
Your physician may help you and your child reach acceptance by providing pertinent scientific information, discussing treatment options and openly addressing everyone’s worries, fears and emotional distress. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor questions until all of your concerns have been addressed, and make sure your child’s questions are answered, too.
If the new diagnosis is causing depression or anxiety, then seeing a counselor may also be helpful. Studies have shown that some psychotherapy approaches are especially helpful for achieving acceptance and restoring hope for a meaningful life, despite new health limitations.
One such approach, which utilizes mindfulness meditation, is called acceptance and commitment therapy. This approach helps patients embrace their limits, find meaning in undesirable circumstances and pursue their passions in new ways.
If you are wondering whether counseling may be right for your family, then you may wish to request a referral from your physician. It may be an important step toward a better treatment result.
This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.