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Times of India
20 July 2008
Pune, India
By Aditi Utpat

That’s what Saba Merchant of the University of Chicago found out while doing research in the city
In a study on the correlation of epilepsy with religion undertaken in Pune by an American scholar, it was found that while most patients are aware that epilepsy is a neurological disease, a number of them still believe that religion and religious offerings have a correlation with their disease.

Saba Merchant, a student pursuing her doctorate degree in the University of Chicago, quoted a prominent city epileptologist, who said, “More than 50% of patients with epilepsy believe that it has got something to do with the cycles of the moon. Some of them have actually shown from their seizure diaries that whenever there is a full moon or new moon they suffer from seizures. In individual cases it might be true, but if you statistically study it over a large a population, it doesn’t make sense.”

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Saba interacted extensively with patients suffering from epilepsy and different doctors in and around the city during her two–month stay. “I chose a scattered sample comprising upper middle–class patients undergoing treatment at prominent city hospitals, middle class patients, patients from urban slums, as well as from a rural area near Pune. The scattered sample gives more credibility to my findings,” explained Saba.

Elaborating on the responses she received Saba narrated that religion for most is an extremely personal experience and therefore being asked about it, especially in relation to an illness, it was not immediately comprehensible to them.

She had quite a few interesting encounters. She narrated meeting a quack, who treated patients through the use of horoscopes. “The quack claimed that the seizures in epileptic patients are caused due to heat. He also claimed that 80% cases are caused by inter–caste marriages, and that epilepsy can also be caused in certain persons because of their blood group!” exclaimed Sabsa.

Discussing her experience with doctors in various areas, Saba narrated how it was difficult for her to get support from doctors practicing in urban areas. “I had very frustrating experiences where doctors at a government hospital told me that they would help me, when in fact, they had no intention to do so,” said Saba.

Through centuries, epilepsy has been related to religion, said Saba. “In Greco–Roman period, it was considered to be a sacred disease. In North America, it is seen as punishment for incest by the Navajo Indians. Even today, exorcisms are often used to treat a diagnosis of epilepsy.”

In conclusion, Saba said, “The historic link between epilepsy and religion remains strong to this day, but what adds to this link is recent research investigating a possible correlation between seizure occurrence in temporal lobe epilepsy and increased religious experience explained by a neurological mechanism. For our purposes, this means that epilepsy is a particularly intriguing disease, and it is important to study the influences that religion and culture have on the understanding and treatment of illness.”

What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder (and not a mental illness) due to a sudden burst of abnormal electrical discharges from the brain. it is a fairly common condition affecting nearly 1% of the population, which means in our country with one billion population there are at least 10 million patients.

Dos and don’ts for patients suffering from seizures Dos
l Help the patient lie down. If the patient is wearing glasses, remove them. Loosen tight clothing. l Turn the patient on the side. Allow saliva to flow out of the mouth l Remove hard, sharp or hot objects from the vicinity. Place a rolled towel or soft pillow under the head. l Allow free circulation of air.

Don’ts
l Do not permit others to crowd around the patient. l Do not force anything between the patient’s tightly clenched teeth. l Do not restrain convulsing limbs. l Do not offer patient anything to eat/drink until full consciousness is regained.

Support group helplines
Cell Phone: +91 9822008035 or +91 9850887644

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