Created by Neetu Ralhan Updated on Mar 26, 2013
“Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it... We will one day understand what causes it, and then cease to call it divine. And so it is with everything in the universe.”
Epilepsy, also known as seizure disorder, is a neurological condition which affects the central nervous system, specifically the brain. The human brain has tiny cells, known as neurons that communicate with each other using electrical signals. An epileptic seizure is caused by disturbances in this electrical activity. It may be as mild as a momentary loss of attention or a muscle spasm or prolonged convulsions (involuntary shaking of the body) lasting several minutes. Some people may lose consciousness and/or bladder control.
The condition usually begins in childhood and causes recurrent seizures or fits.
Purple Day – A 9-year Old’s effort to destigmatize Epilepsy
Founded in 2008 by 9 year old Cassidy Megan from Canada, Purple Day is an initiative to create worldwide awareness about Epilepsy. The color purple is symbolic of the solitude experienced by people with Epilepsy due to widespread ostracism by society.
Developing countries such as India are home to almost 80% of the world’s Epilepsy population. Statistics show that there are about 200,000 to 500,000 new cases of Epilepsy in the country every year and almost 50%-70% patients develop Epilepsy at a young age.
Most people do not receive treatment due to lack of awareness, incomplete diagnosis and the social stigma associated with the disease. Even today, witchcraft is practiced in many parts of the country to drive away the ‘evil spirits’ that are believed to have possessed people who experience seizures or fits.
What Causes Epilepsy?
In an interview to the Times of India, Dr. Rakesh Agrawal, an expert on Epilepsy at Apollo Hospital stated that, “The most common cause of epilepsy in the 15-50 age group is Neurocysticercosis – an infection in the brain caused by infected pork or underground vegetables not washed properly.”
Depending on the underlying cause, three main types of Epilepsy have been identified.
•Symptomatic epilepsy – Due to evident brain damage caused to the baby during pregnancy or birth, a head injury, a parasitic infection in the brain or a brain tumor.
•Cryptogenic epilepsy – When brain damage is not apparent but other symptoms, such as a learning difficulty, suggest that brain damage may have occurred.
•Idiopathic epilepsy – When a cause cannot be identified.
How is Epilepsy Diagnosed?
Although a seizure or a fit is the most notable symptom of Epilepsy, a single fit does not necessarily mean that a person is Epileptic. Sometimes, high fever can cause a seizure in babies and young children. These are known as febrile seizures and are usually considered harmless.
A clear description of the seizure by the eyewitness is very helpful in diagnosis. Tests such as a CT scan, MRI scan or EEG (electroencephalogram) may also be performed to find the underlying cause of repeated convulsions.
How is Epilepsy Treated?
An early detection and timely treatment is extremely important in controlling Epilepsy in children. Once a child is diagnosed, anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) may be prescribed to help control seizures. In some cases, brain surgery may be performed to remove the damaged area or to install an electrical device that can help control seizures. Some important facts:
•Statistics show that in almost 70% of newly diagnosed cases, seizures can be completely controlled with regular medication.
•According the World Health Organization, medication can be discontinued in nearly 70% of children after 2-5 years of successful treatment.
•Prolonged use of AEDs may have side effects and may impact the child’s learning and memory.
•Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is very rare, but is one of the risk factors in Epilepsy.
Caring for a Child with Epilepsy
During a Seizure
According to experts at The Epilepsy Foundation, India,
•Attempting to force a spoon or any other object between the child’s teeth must be avoided as it can break the teeth or cause choking. If the child’s tongue gets a cut, it will heal in the next few days.
•Making the child smell a shoe or any other object should be avoided.
•It is advisable not to physically control the convulsions as it may injure the child. The seizure must be allowed to be completed.
•It will help to loosen tight clothing and ensure that the child can breathe freely.
•Immediate medical help must be sought if the child remains unconscious or gets recurrent fits.
•Raising a child with a medical condition such as Epilepsy can be taxing for parents and other family members. The right information about this condition can help ease anxiety and create a sense of hope in both parents and children.
•A child with Epilepsy needs careful monitoring, at home and at school, and may need to forego certain activities such as swimming or riding during active epilepsy. However, it is important not to overprotect the child as it may discourage them from participating in daily activities.
•The child may experience discrimination by his/her peers and will need continuous support and reassurance from parents and caregivers.
•It is important to inform family members and school administration of the child’s condition so that timely care may be given in case of a seizure.
•Lastly, adhering to the prescribed medication is extremely important. Most people discontinue their medication once the seizures stop, which is not advisable unless approved by one’s doctor.
Support from family, friends and society can go a long way in helping parents deal with the challenges of raising a child with Epilepsy.
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| Jul 22, 2015
I am myself a patient of Epilepsy and can understand it very well. I have consulted many neurologist across the India. Actually we Indians are hypocrites and treat such patients with a different mindset. Even I am feeling shy after confessing that I m suffering from this disease. We people read the articles but never want our bahus or any other person who you know is an epileptic to get befriend with.
| Apr 03, 2013
A very detailed article. A child with epilepsy does need plenty of support and understanding. We do not think about such illnesses unless we read or hear about them. I have learnt a lot more about epilepsy though your blog Neetu. Thanks!
| Mar 29, 2013
The stats in the Blog are quite alarming , specially when it can be caused by many factors some of which cant even be found. Truly we must spread the valuable information . Thanks Neetu.
| Mar 29, 2013
Truely said that epilepsy is still a taboo in our society, we need awareness and there can never be enough of it.. parents need to sensitize children towards these issues,,,that is the only way forward.
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