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19 November 2008
by Anuradha Mascarenhas
New Delhi, India

On the occasion of World Epilepsy Day, doctors in the city advise a mature and understanding approach towards the disease
A recent study conducted by the Department of Neurology and Epidemiology at National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) reveals that an estimated 400 lakh people in the world suffer from Epilepsy. The situation in India is no better as the world's largest democracy has an estimated 55 lakh to 78 lakh people with epilepsy – that is 1/8th of the world population. The study also reveals that in India, epilepsy is associated with social shame. Many cases go unreported or undetected due to lack of knowledge and understanding among the masses.

”Epilepsy, or seizure disorder, is neither a curse nor a sin,” said Dr A B Shah, on the occasion of World Epilepsy Day on November 17. Just like high blood pressure or diabetes, epilepsy too is a medical problem that can be treated. Unfortunately history tells us a different story. People with epilepsy and their families have suffered unfairly because of the ignorance and indifference.

Adding to it, another study published in a popular medical journal reports that people with epilepsy are about three times more at risk of committing suicide as compared to people who do not suffer from the disorder. The study also confirms that the danger of committing suicide is greater among women with epilepsy than among men with the condition. The likelihood of suicide attempts was even higher in people newly diagnosed with the health problem. People detected with epilepsy within the previous six months were more than five times more likely to commit suicide. Further, people with both epilepsy and a psychiatric illness have a 29-fold increase in suicide risk than people with neither condition.

"It is quite obvious that epilepsy patients need emotional and psychological support, especially immediately after a diagnosis of epilepsy" says Dr Shah.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. Many electrical impulses keep passing through our brain cells all the time. When there is a disturbance or improper transmission of these electrical impulses, a person can get a seizure. Symptoms of a seizure are characterized by sudden trembling and uncontrollable jerking motions of the arms and legs, followed by loss of consciousness. In some individuals seizures are not so severe. There may be a brief period of slight trembling or muscle contractions after which the person recovers and becomes his or her normal self again. Some people who have a seizure simply stare ahead blankly for a few seconds. A single episode of seizure does not mean a person has epilepsy - people with epilepsy have regular and repeated seizures. Not all epilepsy syndromes are life long – some forms are limited to particular stages of childhood. Epilepsy should not be understood as a single disorder, but rather as a group of health conditions with different symptoms but all involving irregular abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

“Newly diagnosed patients often have many misunderstandings about the disease,” says Dr Pravina U Shah. They often don’t understand that there are good treatments with few side effects.” Epilepsy is treatable, controllable and preventable. With the right treatment, some people soon stop getting seizures. Between seizures, a person with epilepsy is no different from anyone else – he or she is absolutely normal in every sense of the word.”

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