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What is Epilepsy

What is EpilepsyEpilepsy is the name for a group of disorders of the brain characterized by a tendency to recurrent ‘seizures’ or ‘fits’ that affects approximately 1% of the general population. The number of epilepsy patients in the metropolis of Delhi and New Delhi alone at a given time will be about 130,000 (an estimated population of 13 million) and in the whole of India about 10 million (in an estimated population of 1.0 billion). More important is that about 0.5 to 1 million new cases are added each year to the already existing large numbers in India – increasing the societal burden due to epilepsy.

The 'fits' or 'seizures' can lead to loss of awareness or consciousness, disturbances of movement, sensation (including vision, hearing and taste), autonomic function, mood and mental function. Anyone can be affected by seizures at any age.

Birth injuries, infections including worm infestations, vascular disease, tumors and subtle developmental abnormalities of the brain are the important causes of epilepsy. Many patients have epilepsy without any such detectable brain disease. In most such cases epilepsy is thought to be due to hereditary factors. Though epilepsy need not be feared more than diabetes or hypertension, yet there is social stigma as well as myths attached to it. These baseless apprehensions stem from the widespread ignorance about epilepsy. However, the truth is, that epilepsy can be treated.

Epilepsy is almost always treated by using anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). As per WHO, 3 out of 4 people in the world with epilepsy do not receive treatment at all, mainly due to economic and social reasons. Epilepsy is a unique disorder, that if not treated, can profoundly influence people's ability to participate fully in society. With proper treatment, patients of epilepsy can also lead a normal, healthy life and actively contribute to the society.

Various studies have shown that about 60-70% of newly diagnosed children and adults with epilepsy can be successfully treated with one simple anti-epileptic drug. About 15-20% patients can be helped by the use of more than one drug and some new anti-epileptic drugs that are slightly expensive. The seizures are poorly controlled in about 5-10% of patients who need to be investigated for possible surgical treatment for their epilepsy. Epilepsy surgery in carefully selected patients can even cure epilepsy.

With a correct treatment approach, most patients with epilepsy can enjoy life as much as any healthy person can. They can lead full, productive lives... they can continue their studies, go out to work or meet people, even pursue any personal interests that they may wish to.

Myths & Facts

Myth
Epilepsy is due to the effect of "evil spirits" or "supernatural powers". It is also a form of "madness". So, epilepsy should be treated by faith-healers, sorcerers (witch-craft) or in a
lunatic asylum.

Fact
Epilepsy is a disease of the brain. Hence, epilepsy should be treated by neurologists, epileptologists, physicians and paediatricians.


Myth
One should never touch a patient having a seizure in order to avoid the disease being passed on to you.

Fact
If a patient is having a seizure, he/she needs your help and care. Epilepsy cannot be passed on to others by touching the patient.


Myth
An epileptic seizure can be terminated by putting a key in the patient's hand or by making a patient smell onions or a dirty shoe.

Fact
None of these non-medical measures are of any use. Family members and teachers should be made aware of first-aid measures required during a seizure.


Myth
Children with epilepsy are dull and cannot learn. They should not be sent to school.

Fact
Children with epilepsy can be extremely intelligent. It is usually ignorance about various aspects of epilepsy that prevents parents from sending their children to school. Many times the teachers also have misconceptions and do not encourage children with epilepsy to attend school.


Myth
Treatment for epilepsy with modern medicines is ineffective and expensive.

Fact
"Seizures" or "fits" that occur in epilepsy can be completely controlled by using a single, inexpensive medicine in 60-70% patients. Another 15-20% patients can be helped by the use of new, but slightly expensive drugs. A few cases can be successfully treated with surgery. Epilepsy can even be cured in some cases.
The Brain

No Seizures & No Fits