World over, for centuries, epilepsy has been misunderstood or has even been considered a social stigma.
In fact, doctors point out that epilepsy is one of the most misunderstood diseases throughout history including India. Why? Because symptoms such as seizures and hallucinations have been thought to be caused by supernatural elements or evil spirits.
For example, a neurologist in a public hospital in India who diagnoses around 100 epileptic patients a week points out that the patients believe they are possessed or those with epilepsy are treated with home remedies such as making them hold metal, smell an onion or even old shoes.
Many times epilepsy in children or teenagers is also suppressed as it might impact their marriage prospects. Doctors point that factors such as lack of awareness, social stigma, result in delay or no treatment of epilepsy, which in turn results in irreversible or severe repercussions such as even premature death.
So, What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological condition or disorder. It is a chronic disease, which means it does not go away like a cough or cold. Epilepsy is one of the most common disorders of the nervous system. It is not contagious, and it can affect people of all ages, genders, backgrounds.
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Epilepsy is when the brain activity becomes abnormal resulting in seizures or unusual behaviour. Generally, a person who has had two or more unprovoked seizures in a certain time frame is checked for epilepsy. Currently, at least 50 million people globally suffer from epilepsy. In India, at least 1 percent of the population is expected to be suffering from epilepsy and many are never diagnosed.
So, what are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Symptoms of an epileptic seizure can vary widely and is dependent on which part of the brain the abnormal activity occurs and how far it spreads. For example, a focal seizure affects one side of the brain and a generalized seizure both sides of the brain.
Hence symptoms range from people staring blankly, twitching, temporary confusion, stiff muscles, loss of consciousness and the one which probably attracts the most attention is the involuntary, uncontrollable jerking movements. Symptoms can differ among patients but generally a patient has the same type of symptoms each time they have an episode. Also, the time of an epileptic episode can range from a few seconds, up to minutes, it can occur in different patterns for example infrequently such as once in a year, several times a day or week.
So what are the treatments?
Treatment can help patients have fewer seizures or stop them entirely. Today options include anti-epileptic drugs, in some cases surgery and even the keto diet to improve symptoms. Doctors also point out that infectious diseases such as TB of the brain, Neurocysticercosis or brain worm infections which can cause scarring injury to the brain and can cause epilepsy. But these are also treatable conditions.
In conclusion, epilepsy is a common medical condition, the most common neurological disorder and in fact doctors emphasize that with the right and timely medical treatment a person can live a normal, productive life.