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swimming and water sports

Many water sports can be made safer for people with epilepsy, by taking the right safety measures. This means considering what risk the activity involves as well as how your epilepsy affects you. For example, there may be different risks for water-skiing than for dinghy sailing if you have seizures where you lose consciousness.

Wearing a lifejacket is recommended for most water sports. It is also important to have someone with you who knows how to help if you have a seizure, like a friend or instructor.

Kayaking and canoeing

The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) (opens new window) says that there can be risks for people with epilepsy who paddle a kayak (sometimes called a canoe). If a kayak overturns when someone has a seizure they could be trapped underneath and their buoyancy aid could keep them pressed up under the kayak. Although this is a risk for anyone who tips over a kayak, it is more of a risk for someone having a seizure as they may be unconscious or only partly conscious at the time.

There is less risk of being trapped underneath an open canoe (sometimes called a Canadian canoe) during a seizure.

Scuba diving

Scuba diving carries risks including drowning, as well as conditions caused by breathing various levels of oxygen or nitrogen at depth.

Scuba diving is not recommended for people who have seizures because of the risk of having a seizure underwater. Having a seizure underwater can be life-threatening and may also endanger the life of the diving buddy or other companions.

Once somebody has well-controlled seizures on medication the risk of further seizures is reduced but is never removed completely.

The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) (opens new window) currently says that people must be seizure-free for five years (or three years if seizures only happen in their sleep) and off AEDs for five years, before they consider scuba diving.

Swimming

If you have seizures, it is a good idea to swim with someone who knows about the type of seizures you have and how to help you if you have a seizure in the water.

Swimming in the sea, a river, or other open water is more risky than in a swimming pool because of currents, tides, sudden changes in depth, and colder water temperatures, even in summer. If you have a seizure in open water, it may also be harder for someone to see that you are having a seizure or to be able to help you.

At a swimming pool, you could tell the lifeguards how they can help you if you have a seizure. Some people swim during quieter swimming sessions so it is easier for the lifeguards to see them.

If you have a seizure in the water, lifeguards or a friend can help you by supporting your head above the water, and gently towing you to a depth where they can stand up, or to the poolside. They can then support you in the water until the seizure stops. If you are near the poolside, they may need to protect you from hitting the side and injuring yourself.

You may need medical attention to check that you have not inhaled water during a seizure, even if you feel fine. It is also important for someone to stay with you afterwards and check that your breathing has returned to normal.

See also Sport and physical activities.

Taken from our Leisure leaflet. Order this leaflet from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer.