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The Dilemma Of Understanding And Battling Epilepsy


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Different parts of the human brain communicate or exchange information through electric currents. There are more than 85 billion neurons in the human brain, which make fast and continuous communication possible. Any short circuit at any point can cause a catastrophic situation, and the particular part of the brain or sometimes the whole brain may stop working temporarily. This phenomenon is called an epileptic fit or epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological illness known to man for many centuries. Also called ‘Fits’ in layman’s terminology, this disease is a very common problem in the world. For example, in Pakistan, epilepsy is estimated to be 9.99 per 1000 people, indicating millions of people are suffering from it, according to ResearchGate. It affects people living in rural areas as well as urban areas, men as well as women but it mostly affects young people. As an estimation, 70% of people with epilepsy are young while 30% develop epilepsy after 50 years of age.

Myths About Epilepsy

Although epilepsy is not new for many people because they have seen others in their surroundings suffering from it, at the same time there are many misconceptions prevalent in the society about this infamous disease. Often people think that fits occur because of evil possession and they then prefer running to a faith healer for this illness rather than a doctor. Another misconception is that people try to connect it with stress or life failures rather than a psychological problem. So when a young person has a seizure the parents get genuinely concerned with the misconceptions that are prevalent in society.

The first fear is that of evil possession, magic, or a serious psychological issue. The other issue is that unaware people try to hide this because they don’t consider it a medical illness. They don’t want others to know that their son or daughter has epilepsy because this diagnosis has been stigmatized in society. They may fear that they would not be able to marry off their children or they may not become part of society or even accepted within their family or schools. This general attitude towards epilepsy and epileptics can be seen in every place, even in the developed parts of the world.

Why Do People Develop Epilepsy?

In 70% of epileptics, there is no apparent underlying cause. Scientists believed that there is an underlying reason for the short-circuiting but that problem is not visible on routine tests. In 25 to 30% of the patients, epilepsy is secondary to prior stroke, head trauma, or infection of the brain but as found, 70% of the people no underlying lesion is identified on brain imaging. Secondary epilepsy is potentially preventable i.e. if one prevents a stroke or brain infection from happening, he/she is also preventing secondary epilepsy that may follow these illnesses.

At times, seizures are because of electrolyte imbalance or less glucose in the blood, for example, a decrease in sodium and glucose levels are commonly encountered causes of seizures. A seizure may be due to the consumption of many illicit drugs like alcohol and cocaine. Only 5% of people with epilepsy have such an illness that cannot be adequately controlled on drugs. For them, surgical techniques are available where surgeons first identify the point in the brain giving rise to seizure and then remove that focus, the process is known as epilepsy surgery. In a majority of this subpopulation, seizures can be controlled to a large extent through surgery.

Battling And Surviving Epilepsy

In 90% of the patients, epilepsy is completely treatable. It’s clearly known that it’s an illness of the brain and how it’s treated. Mostly, treatment is possible through antiepileptic drugs. These medications are to be taken for long time periods regularly, the duration of therapy is between 3 to 5 years or even longer. Timely and regular administration of these drugs is the most effective way of treating epilepsy. Most of the time single-drug therapy is sufficient. One must remember that good control of seizures doesn’t mean that he/she can stop the drugs. This is because a seizure can reoccur if medications are stopped. Target is complete control of both minor and major seizures for at least three years before patients can consider stopping these drugs. 60 to 70 % of epileptics don’t require lifelong therapy and anti-epileptic medication can be successfully stopped after 3 to 4 years.

In patients who skip their medication regularly, epilepsy may become refractory and lead to lifelong therapy. Despite living on treatments, 90% of epileptics can lead an absolutely normal life and can even be medical students, physicians, Ph.D. doctors, engineers, etc. Epileptic patients can have their education and jobs; girls can be married off and have children and look after them. All this is possible if epilepsy is controlled. Anti-epileptic drugs are usually safe and can be taken for a long period of time. A lot of these drugs can be used by women during pregnancy. For children, the anti-epileptic drugs are a little bit different but even then epilepsy can be well controlled with them.

Precautions For Patients

Epileptic patients have to be cautious about 2 to 3 things while taking drug therapy. For a specific period of time, they should stop driving, swimming, going alone on heights or playing video games, or watching television for a long time. They are prohibited because bright lights to which they may be exposed during the latter activities can provoke seizures in some epileptic patients. Lack of sleep and not taking drugs on time are other important causes of provoking seizures in epileptics.

Epilepsy is a treatable medical illness. An important point to remember is that epilepsy is an illness of the brain. It is not something to be ashamed of. This is not due to evil possession or any supernatural phenomenon, it is an illness just like common cold or pneumonia, etc. Currently available therapeutic options make living a normal life with epilepsy absolutely possible. So if someone has a similar symptom, he/she should see a doctor and get treatment. They should behave and feel like a normal part of society. In fact, these epileptic patients if treated properly can make society as well as humanity better as much as anyone else.

Read Full Post: HOPE Program: Guiding students to seek a career in healthcare

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