Epilepsy affects approximately 65 million people all over the world. In India, it is estimated that about 12 million people suffer from epilepsy – which is more than one sixth of the global cases.
An alarming fact revealed by the Indian Epilepsy Association states that – while 60% of urban Indians consult a doctor after suffering a seizure, only 10% of rural Indians do the same.
The staggering number is indicative of the lack of awareness and sensitization about epilepsy in India.
What is Epilepsy?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe epilepsy as "a common neurological condition characterized by recurrent seizures".
Our brain cells constantly send out electrical signals to the rest of our body. A disturbance in these electrical signals may result in seizures or short, unusual behaviour, sensations, and sometimes unconsciousness.
People with epilepsy suffer frequent seizures. Sudden electrical rush to the brain is what causes seizures. While a mild seizure may be hard to detect, stronger seizures may last a few seconds to several minutes.
As such, there is no cure for epilepsy, but early treatment can reduce further complications.
Symptoms of Epilepsy
- Involuntary and uncontrollable jerking movements of the limbs
- Loss of consciousness and awareness of surrounding
- Psychic symptoms of confusion and staring blankly
Risk Factors of Epilepsy
- A family history of epilepsy
- Head injuries
- Stroke and other vascular diseases
- All stroke induced brain damage
- Alzheimer’s disease (late stages)
- Infections of the brain – abscess, meningitis, or encephalitis
- Use of cocaine
- Fever-related seizures
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Diagnosis of Epilepsy
After a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms, a doctor may make the first evaluation based on the following factors:
- Behavioural checking
- Thinking faculty
- Memory and speech skills
- Motor abilities
- Mental function
- Blood tests (infections, genetic conditions associated with seizures)
Doctors may conduct several diagnostic tests to detect brain abnormalities and the reason behind seizures. Some of these investigations are:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) test
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
Treatment of Epilepsy
Medication for reducing or eliminating seizures: Doctors may prescribe medicines based on the severity of symptoms. However, there could be side effects associated with certain medications such as fatigue, dizziness, skin rashes, poor coordination, and memory problems. It is extremely important to consult a doctor before starting any medication for your condition.
In cases where medication does not help, and depending on the underlying cause of the condition, doctors might sometimes recommend a surgical intervention. Surgery could involve removing the affected part. This is usually done only when the affected region of the brain is small, and does not control pivotal functions such as – speech, sight, hearing, and movement. There are some variants of surgical interventions that doctors analyse.
Therapeutic options include Vagus Nerve Stimulator. This device - which is surgically placed under the skin on the chest - electrically stimulates the nerve that runs through neck. Even after this procedure, a person may need to take some medication.
Ketogenic Diet (high fat, low carbohydrate diet) is known to have benefited some people. This is tried particularly for people who don’t respond to medication. Known side effects of this diet include – high cholesterol, kidney stones, constipation, weight gain, and dehydration.
People with epilepsy also face a small risk (~1%) of sudden unexpected death due to heart or respiratory conditions. The root cause for this is not fully understood.
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