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25 July 2014

Top athletes beat epilepsy to reach Commonwealth Games 2014

At first glance, elite athletes Dai Greene and  Kelly MacDonald may not appear to have much in common as they  compete at the Commonwealth Games 2014. One is a 400-meter hurdler from Wales with  European, World  and Commonwealth titles already under his belt. The other is a rhythmic gymnast from New Zealand.

But the two competitors on the international platform have both had to overcome the same personal hurdle - both of them have epilepsy.

Dai, now 28,  was diagnosed at the age of 17 before his passion for athletics took hold. Kelly, 20, was diagnosed in January of this year after a seizure left her with a broken jaw.

Managing seizures without epilepsy medication

Both athletes, however, have refused to let their epilepsy hold them back. Ever since he started training for the 400-meter hurdles at university, Dai took the decision - in consultation with his epilepsy specialist - to stop taking his medication  and to manage his seizures through lifestyle choices, focusing on a good night's sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Kelly has decided to take the same approach. Like Dai, she feared that anti-epileptic medication could affect her physical performance and has decided to concentrate on leading a healthy lifestyle in the hopes of optimising her chances of remaining seizure free.

Now all eyes will be on the two athletes as they represent their  countries at the games in Glasgow. Kelly was one of the first athletes to perform, competing in the first round of the rhythmic gymnastics with ball and with hoop. Dai will be defending his Commonwealth champion crown on the hurdles track next Tuesday, 29 July.

Withdrawing epilepsy drugs

A spokesperson for Epilepsy Society warned, however, that coming off medication was never a decision to be taken lightly: 'Lifestyle factors can have a major impact on the occurrence of seizures. Tiredness, lack of sleep, stress, alcohol and not taking anti-epileptic drugs can all trigger a seizure.

'However, stopping medication carries the risk of increased seizure frequency and severity, and withdrawal is generally against medical advice. If someone wants to stop taking their medication they should only do so in consultation with their epilepsy specialist and they should let family and friends know what they are doing. They should always recommence medication if they experience seizures .'