Clinical Topics & News

Editorial: Transitioning to College with Epilepsy


Nikesh Ardeshna, MD

Dr. Ardeshna is the Medical Director of Adult Epilepsy Services at Royal Oak Hospital, Beaumont Health , in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Starting college is both an exciting and stressful experience for new students. For people with epilepsy, going to college raises some specific and unique concerns compared to those without the condition . The purpose of this article is to look at some of the challenges for people with epilepsy and some potential solutions. The overall theme is that it is better to be prepared ahead of time.

The main goal of the person with epilepsy at college is to ensure that a breakthrough seizure does not occur, as this could lead to serious consequences (injuries, sprains, strains, and a change in lifestyle). However, it is equally important to ensure that an individual with epilepsy has a quality life.

For most students, attending college is one of life’s milestones. College is a new environment, with some new pressures that include academic success, making new friends (fitting in), participation in extracurricular activities (both academic and not), and taking personal responsibility of what may considered basic yet essential daily activities, such as meal preparation, laundry, etc.

Some of these issues may be of lesser concern, depending on the distance from college to home; however the struggle to maintain independence is common regardless how far away the college campus is from home.

If college is far from home, it may be better for the individual with epilepsy to establish care with a local neurologist, or preferably, a local epileptologist. This is helpful in case of emergency. Ideally, prescriptions should be transferred to a nearby pharmacy before refills are due. It is also beneficial to coordinate follow up visits if needed with the original neurologist/epileptologist at term breaks and vacations. If there is an increase in seizure frequency or side effects patients should contact their physician as soon as possible and not simply wait for the next trip home. It is advisable for people with epilepsy to keep a wallet card or similar such item with them that lists medications names and doses as well as emergency contact numbers. If the patient is traveling by air or bus, mediations should be packed in hand luggage, not checked baggage, to avoid the possible of delayed arrival at the destination.

As class times may differ in a college environment, individuals with epilepsy should ensure they remain complaint with their medication and not miss doses. This may mean remembering to carry the medication with them, and keeping an extra supply at the dormitory/residence in case of emergency.

For individuals with epilepsy, stressors, such as decreased sleep/sleep deprivation, missed meals, over exertion, dehydration can lead to breakthrough seizures (even in those who are compliant with their antiepileptic drugs [AEDs]). Sleep deprivation and missed meals can be somewhat common in a college atmosphere, especially around examination time. People with epilepsy should ensure they get adequate sleep, do not miss meals, and are adequately hydrated (more so when participating in sports).

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