Epilepsy explained

Write Way to HealthToday (26 March) is Purple Day.

It’s an international awareness day for epilepsy, a condition that is suffered by around one per cent of the population. That’s about 65 million people worldwide, including 400,000 Australians.

Traditionally epilepsy has been a hidden condition due to stigma and discrimination, often caused by a misunderstanding of the condition. Purple Day is designed to increase awareness of epilepsy and to help break down barriers and common misconceptions about the condition.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain condition characterised by recurrent seizures. It is not a disease; it is not a psychological disorder and it is not contagious.

While one in 10 people will experience at least one seizure in their lifetime, epilepsy is defined by multiple seizures.

Who gets epilepsy?

Anyone can develop epilepsy, however onset occurs usually during childhood or in older people. Sometimes people who developed seizures as a child can outgrow them. There is an increased risk of epilepsy in the elderly due to strokes and ageing of the brain.

Seizures explained

Our brain consists of billions of nerve cells (neurons) that communicate through electrical and chemical signals. When a sudden excessive electrical discharge occurs, it can interrupt the normal activity of nerve cells and a seizure may occur.

Seizure can take many different forms but overall, they cause a change in function of behaviour. The location of the brain where the abnormal electrical discharge occurs will determine the form the seizure will take. Seizures usually last seconds to minutes and can be:

  • Blank stares
  • Muscle spasms
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Altered awareness
  • Odd sensations
  • Convulsions

Seizures are classified according to their length, and the symptoms displayed during the seizure. It is important to classify the seizures as it helps determine the type of treatment required.

How is it diagnosed

Diagnosing epilepsy may be different for each patient. Doctors usually look at medical history, descriptions of what happens before, during and after the seizure. There are also a number of tests doctors use to diagnose, although not all patients will need all these tests. They include:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) — a recording of the electrical activity of the brain via small electrodes attached to the scalp. This procedure is painless.
  • Video EEG telemetry — usually patients are monitored for 24 hours via an EEG and video, while in hospital
  • Computerised axial topography (CT scan) — an examination of the brain structure to identify causes of epilepsy (i.e. stroke or tumour, etc.).
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI Scan) — a test that provides life-like pictures of the brain structure.
  • Neuropsychology — this evaluation involves interviews and testing with a psychologist to determine if epilepsy has affected your cognitive, language and spatial skills.

How is epilepsy treated?

Most cases of epilepsy are treated with anti-epileptic drugs. While these medications do not cure the condition, they do help suppress and manage seizures. Every case of epilepsy must be treated individually. If drug treatment is not successful, some patients may need to undergo surgery.

How can you help?

The prime goal of Epilepsy Australia is for everyone to be seizure aware. That means knowing what to do if someone you know has a seizure. A downloadable poster on Seizure first aid is available here.

You can also help by donating to Epilepsy Australia at  or purchasing some of their merchandise at

And of course, don’t forget to wear purple for Purple Day and stand up for epilepsy.

Further information

Purple Day

Epilepsy Australia

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Raise a glass – to your kidney health

Kidney HealthWhen was the last time you thought about your kidneys?

Any day is a good day to think about them, however today (12 March) is World Kidney Day — a day devoted to raise awareness of how important our kidneys are to overall health.

What do kidneys do?

Your kidneys play a vital role. Bean-shaped and about the size of your first, these two organs are located near the middle of your back, just below the ribcage.

As well as forming part of our urinary system, our kidneys perform a host of other functions. For example:

  • They remove waste from the body and eliminate it in the urine
  • Over a day, your kidneys filter around 200 litres of blood and produce between one and two litres of urine.
  • They regulate the body’s fluids and maintain the perfect electrolytes, ensuring the health of every organ in the body.
  • They produce a number of hormones that stimulate the production of red blood cells, help control blood pressure and convert inactive vitamin D to a form the body can use.

Who would have thought they could do all of that?

How to keep your kidneys healthy

Our kidneys work hard all the time. Ensuring they function properly is key to maintaining good health. Here are the things you can do to keep yours in tip-top condition:

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be active for more than 30 minutes on most days
  • Eat a balanced diet low in saturated fats
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Manage your diabetes (if you have it).

Drink water for kidney healthYou should also have regular kidney function tests if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Obesity
  • One of your parents or other family members suffers from kidney disease
  • You are of African, Asian or Aboriginal descent.

So on World Kidney Day, raise a glass….of water….and drink to your kidney health.

Further information

World Kidney Day

Kidney Health Australia 

What’s in season – Autumn

seasonal produce

“A vegetable garden” by Laura Bentley (8 years), 2013

Leaves changing colour, and cooler mornings and evenings signal the arrival of Autumn. While we can still enjoy some warm days, there is something about the cooler weather that has us heading back to our kitchens.

Over the next few months, the following will be in season, perfect for autumn fare:

Fruit

Apples Lemons Pears
Bananas Limes Plums
Custard apples Mandarins Quinces
Figs Nashi Rhubarb
Grapes Oranges Watermelon
Kiwi fruit Passionfruit

Vegetables

Asian greens (bok choy, choy sum) Cucumbers Peas
Avocados Eggplant Potatoes
Broccoli Fennel Pumpkin
Brussels sprouts Ginger Snow peas
Cabbage Leeks Spinach
Capsicum Green beans Sweet potato (kumara)
Carrots Lettuce Tomatoes
Cauliflower Mushrooms Zucchini
Celery Onions
Corn Parsnip

If you are not quite ready to head indoors to eat, don’t despair. Autumn is still a great time to light up the barbecue. But instead of the usual crisp, cold salads of summer, why not make a warm salad of roast autumn veggies to accompany your meat?

autumn produceWhen entertaining, a cheese platter with figs, grapes and pears is ideal. And when it comes to dessert, stewed rhubarb and apple is perfect with custard or ice-cream. If you want something more substantial and warming, then you can’t go past homemade apple pie!

So what are you waiting for? Grab your basket and head off to your local farmer’s market or fruit and veggie shop. There’s a world of wonderful produce waiting for you.