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Times of India
16 November 2008
by Dipannita Das, TNN

Do you know what Socrates, Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great, Charles Dickens, Sir Isaac Newton – apart from being legends in their own right – had in common? They were all afflicted by epilepsy.

To create awareness and remove misconceptions about this disorder, National Epilepsy Day will be observed on Monday. Society is known to discriminate against epileptics and the stigma attached to the disorder makes it hard for patients to mingle with others. There are myths and assumptions that epilepsy is a mental illness, epileptics can't lead normal lives and that it’s incurable.

But the truth is epilepsy is curable and after getting treatment, patients can enjoy life like anyone else. Many epileptics are denied employment, admission to educational institutes and even marriage. The law, however, states persons suffering from epilepsy can lead a legally married life.

What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder due to sudden bursts of abnormal electrical discharges from the brain. Not every person who has a seizure (convulsion) is said to have epilepsy. One person in every 20 has at least one seizure in their lifetime. Fortunately, doctors say only 1 in 200 such cases develop epilepsy.

Despite great strides in medical research, a definite cause for the disease is yet to be discovered. Only 2 to 4% of the cases are hereditary. Seizures and likelihood of developing epilepsy is more before 20 and after 60 years of age.

Indian Epilepsy Association (Bangalore chapter) vice–president G T Subhash says anti–epileptic drugs are available and neuro epidemiological studies show seizures can be controlled in 75 to 80% patients. For the rest, surgical treatment can be considered. “Persons with epilepsy can marry, and there are no known complications in pregnancy due to the disease,” he says.

In case of employment, epileptics should avoid construction work, engineering that involves direct contact with machines, electrical works, etc – where seizures may result in injury. Other jobs such as desk positions and assembly line tasks are suited for epileptics.

How the world copes with epilepsy
Globally, there are certain issues that need attention. However, in the US, UK and Australia, a driving licence is issued to an epileptic if the person has not suffered a seizure for one or two years. Also, the person can obtain licence while under medication (anti-epileptic drugs). Indian Epilepsy Association has petitioned the government to amend the Motor Vehicles Act so that epileptics can obtain driving licence. The government is yet to respond.

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