Social issues, lifestyle, and epilepsy

University can be an exciting time offering many opportunities both socially and academically and it is a time when you can build your independence. Whatever your hopes and expectations, making epilepsy just one part of your life may help you to get the most out of your experience at university.

Living arrangements

Choosing where you want to live is an important decision. You may decide to live at home or to move into student accommodation. Or you may live on your own.

It’s worth thinking about what sort of accommodation you would prefer as well as what would suit you best.

Could you live in student halls of residence where there will be a warden available at all times, should you need it? Would you be able to stay in halls of residence for your entire course or would you have to move out after the first year?

Do you need any particular equipment to make your living environment safer? For example, an alarm or a shower rather than a bath?

Do you need help during or after a seizure? If so, who can help, and how will you call them?

It may be a good idea to get in touch with the university accommodation office as soon as possible, to talk through what options are available, what your needs are and how they can best help you.

Who should you tell?

You may already have thought about who you want to tell that you have epilepsy. Or you may feel that you don’t want to tell anyone. If your seizures are controlled, you may feel that there is no need to tell anyone.

The choice is yours, but you may want to think about the following points.

If you need any support or help – for example, from your lecturers or the student disability service – you will need to tell them that you have epilepsy. 

If you need financial help, such as a Disabled Students’ Allowance, you will need to disclose that you have epilepsy in order to qualify. 

If you have seizures, it might be useful for people to know, so that they know how to help you.

You might just want to tell the people you spend most time with, or your tutor.

It may not be easy to tell someone that you have epilepsy. Planning what you want to say might make you feel more confident. You can then tell them how and when you want to, on your terms, or not at all. It is your choice

Call us for some first aid cards that you could give out to people, or use the first aid section of this website to show them how they can help you if you have a seizure.

Leisure and sport

Going out and having fun is important to us all and at university there are plenty of opportunities . So does your epilepsy have to get in the way?

As epilepsy varies from one person to another, what is right for one may not be right for another. If you know that your epilepsy affects you in a particular way, you can often make your own decisions about what you can do. For example, if your epilepsy makes you very tired, early morning activities might not be for you. 

What sports can I do?

Most people with epilepsy can take part in most sports, but it does depend on how your epilepsy affects you.

Team sports that involve other people, like football, can carry a risk of head injury. Sport and leisure activities in and around water, or at heights, may be risky if you still have seizures. But simple safety measures can reduce the risks in most cases.

Be realistic about what you want to do, what the possible risks could be for you, and how you can reduce them. For example, have a friend with you who knows what to do if you have a seizure. Tell other people, such as your coach or a lifeguard at the pool, about your epilepsy so that they can help you if you have a seizure.

Having epilepsy doesn’t have to stop you from trying new things or doing what you enjoy.

TV and computer games

For most people with epilepsy, TV and playing computer games won’t cause any problems at all.

However, a small percentage (about 3%) of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, where seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or by seeing moving patterns such as stripes or checks. Flatscreen computers and TVs either do not flicker at all, or flicker too fast to cause a problem, but if you have photosensitive epilepsy, the computer game itself could trigger seizures. This depends on what the images are, how close you are to the screen, and how dark the room is.

Computer games that have flashing images may carry a warning on the packaging. 

Freshers' week, theme parks, festivals or gigs?

Freshers’ Week can be an exciting time, with lots of activities and events that give you the opportunity to, make new friends and try out new activities. You can also sign up for groups and courses.

But it may also feel overwhelming and hectic. Remember, if you feel this way, many people will be feeling the same way as you, if they have epilepsy or not.

Rides at theme parks, noise, loud music, crowds and late nights can be exciting or tiring, or can raise stress levels. For some people these situations may trigger a seizure. Learning about your triggers can help you make decisions about what you can do.

Alcohol and drugs

Students are sometimes seen as drinking too much and taking drugs, but this isn't for everyone. It may be worth thinking about how you might handle conversations, and opportunities, around alcohol and drugs.

Having a good time when you go out is important, but some people's seizures can be triggered by alcohol or drugs or by being tired from late nights.

Drinking alcohol is a personal choice and the effect of alcohol varies from one person to another. Some people find that they are OK to drink, while others find that it guarantees a seizure the next day.

If you drink too much and are sick, this could affect the level of anti-seizure medication (ASM) in your system, which may affect how well your seizures are controlled.

Also, alcohol does not mix well with some anti-seizure medication (ASM) and can make some side effects worse. The information leaflet that comes with your drugs will normally say if it is best to avoid alcohol.

Not every student is interested in drugs. But you may be thinking about what to do if you are offered them, or have already decided what you will do.

Whether you take drugs or not is your personal choice, but it might be worth knowing that cannabis, ecstasy, speed, cocaine and other drugs can all increase the chance of having a seizure.

You can find out more about drugs from FRANK.

Risk and safety

Having epilepsy does cause risks, and there are safety issues to consider. But it is also important to keep risks in perspective and to avoid making generalisations about what you ‘can’t do’ just because you have epilepsy.

Status epilepticus or 'status'

Usually seizures stop by themselves. When a seizure goes on for a long time without stopping, or repeated seizures happen with no recovery in between, and this goes on for 5 minutes, the person is in ‘status’. If status happens in a tonic clonic seizure (when the person is unconscious and shakes), an ambulance needs to be called. Emergency medication may need to be given to stop the seizure.

SUDEP

Although it is very rare, it is possible to die due to epilepsy. Sometimes this happens due to sudden unexpected death in epilepsy or ‘SUDEP’. SUDEP is when a person with epilepsy dies suddenly and where no other cause of death is found. It is hard to be sure why SUDEP happens but it may be that during a seizure the person’s breathing or heartbeat is affected.

You may choose to wear an alarm to alert someone if you have a seizure.

Getting the best seizure control possible is often the best way of reducing risks relating to epilepsy and seizures.

Living a fuller life

Making epilepsy just one part of your life might help you to get the most out of going to university.

The key to achieving a fuller life might be to take care of yourself, take control of your epilepsy, plan ahead and make the most of what help and support are available.

See also:

Dealing with feelings and emotional issues and a number of other websites and forums such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and the National Union of Students (NUS) or studentasticthe student room and studential that offer information and support. 

If you would like to talk to someone about anything you have read here, you can call our helpline.

Information updated: September 2021

University and epilepsy

If you're considering going to university or if you’ve definitely decided that’s what you want to do, you’ll need to think about what this will mean for you in practical terms and about what support you might need, including financial support. Being well prepared will help you to make the most of your time at university.