Understanding facts and myths about Epilepsy!

~ Dr Ashok Hande, Neurosurgeon, Hiranandani Hospital Vashi – A Fortis Network Hospital ~

Epilepsy is one of the oldest disorders of the brain, affecting more than 60 million people worldwide. It has no age, racial, or geographical boundaries. It’s sudden and dramatic appearance has mystified mankind since a long time, no wonder it is surrounded by prejudices and myths. In the past, the popular belief was that Epilepsy is contagious, people used to spit at a person with this condition and refused to use the same dish. Even now, despite significant scientific progress, people with Epilepsy continue to suffer from discrimination—not only in the developing world but also in the supposedly enlightened West. Until the 1970s, it was illegal in few countries to deny persons with seizures entry in restaurants, theatres, recreational centers and other public places. These employment and legal restrictions further perpetuated the stigma attached to Epilepsy in modern society.

facts and myths about Epilepsy

Epilepsy or seizures is one of the most common neurological disorders in India, with a prevalence of 5 per 1000 people; translating into a burden of more than 5 million cases. Seizures, sometimes called ‘fits’ or ‘attacks’ can be frightening for those who have never witnessed one before.  This involves a person’s muscles to stiffen, losing consciousness and falling to the floor. The body rhythmically starts jerking which is called “tonic-clonic seizures” as the body is first stiff (tonic) and then has a rhythmic jerk (clonic). In few people, the Epilepsy might just disappear, this is called Spontaneous Remission.

Some facts about seizures:

  1. Most seizures come without a warning sign and happen suddenly which last for a short while and eventually stops naturally
  2. Seizures differ from person to person
  3. Some people are prone to more than a single type of seizure; however, even though the seizers are unique, the pattern remains the same each time it occurs
  4. Not every seizure is accompanied with convulsions (jerking or shaking movements)
  5. Some people experience seizers when they are awake known as ‘awake seizers’ and some experience them while asleep known as ‘asleep or nocturnal seizers’
  6. Injuries can take place during a seizure.
  7. Epilepsy can start at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed in people under 20yrs and those over 65yrs

The Myths about seizures:

  1. Epilepsy is a form of spiritual possession: Epilepsy is a neurological condition, affecting the brain. It is also a physical condition, because the body is affected when someone has a seizure.
  2. Epilepsy is contagious: Epilepsy cannot be caught if one comes in contact with an Epileptic patient; like many other medical problems, it is NOT contagious.
  3. You are born with epilepsy, it is genetic: Anyone can develop epilepsy at any time.

There are those who are born with it while others have their first seizure at an adult age. While genetics can play a factor, there are other more common causes of Epilepsy, such as head trauma, brain tumour  and stroke, to name a few.

  1. People with epilepsy can’t work, excel at school, have children or lead normal lives: Epileptics often lead normal lives. The range of abilities and intelligence in people with Epilepsy is no different than the rest of us.
  2. During a seizure, you can swallow your tongue: The human tongue cannot be swallowed. However, one can bite their tongue during a seizure.
  3. You should force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure: This is not at all recommended. If someone is having a seizure, it is advisable to roll the person on to one side and place something soft under is head to protect the person from injury.
  4. You should restrain someone having a seizure: The seizure will run its course and cannot be stopped or avoided. Using restraint is not the answer and must not be used.

Inputs by Dr Ashok Hande, Neurosurgeon, Hiranandani Hospital Vashi – A Fortis Network Hospital

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