KOCHI/ 18 November 2023: The enduring effects of epilepsy reach beyond seizures, affecting interpersonal relationships, career, finances, and social status. Alongside other factors, this influence may lead to feelings of dejection, disinterest, and depression. Regrettably, epilepsy cases frequently escape detection, are underreported, and go undertreated, intensifying the difficulty of rehabilitating individuals with epilepsy.
One of the leading neurologists, from Amrita Hospital, Kochi, expressed concern over the rising underdiagnosis of epilepsy. She has highlighted the current trend of an aging population, anticipating a rise in the overall incidence and prevalence of epilepsy. Approximately 80% of epilepsy patients reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in poor socioeconomic strata. Many newly diagnosed epilepsy patients are older individuals.
Dr. Siby Gopinath, Epileptologist and Professor of Neurology at Amrita Hospital, Kochi, emphasized the urgent need for action considering recent findings on the state of epilepsy in India. She said, “Epilepsy is one of the common neurological disorders, and in India itself, we have more than 1,00,00,000 patients affected with epilepsy. India faces a profound treatment gap, leaving 22% untreated in urban areas and a staggering 90% in rural regions. However, the gravity of the situation extends beyond numbers. The importance of addressing the complexities of epilepsy, to ensure comprehensive and effective healthcare solutions for the affected population, cannot be overstated.’’
Various factors contribute to the risk of epilepsy in younger age, including premature birth, low birth weight, low oxygen or blood glucose levels at birth, structural malformations in the brain etc. Additional risk factors involve, infections like meningitis, cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, autism, a family history of epilepsy. Conditions like stroke, brain tumors and late-stage dementia can cause epilepsy in old age.
Epilepsy presents with a myriad of symptoms. loss of consciousness jerking of hands and legs, falls, and frothing from the mouth, loss of bowel and bladder control are classical symptoms. Notably, seizures can vary, with some manifesting as a sudden interruption in speech and a vacant stare, rapid blinking of the eyes, and confusion, unexplained fear, visual hallucinations, underlining the multifaceted nature of epilepsy.
Dispelling misconceptions, Dr. Gopinath emphasizes that epilepsy is a neurological disorder, not a mental disorder. Epilepsy can develop at any age, and seizures can manifest in various forms. Contrary to beliefs, epilepsy does not always involve convulsive movements and does not necessarily affect intellectual capacity. While some cases may have a genetic component, epilepsy is not always inherited. Treatment approaches vary, with individualized plans incorporating medications, surgery, or dietary changes.
She further added, ‘’The management of epilepsy predominantly relies on anti-seizure medications, with positive responses observed in 70-75% of patients. Medications are customized based on factors like epilepsy type, age, and gender, occupation of the patient. For the remaining 30%, surgical options with epilepsy are less capable. Regrettably, caregivers often lack the knowledge to help them to care for a family member with epilepsy. there is a notable absence of education and awareness in the general public on how to support those living with epilepsy.”
Screening for epilepsy is vital to help in identifying risk factors, treating it early and enabling preventive measures. These include implementing healthcare practices, careful childbirth management and essential vaccination protocols. Avoiding risk factors like, recreational drugs, and alcohol is also helpful in preventing epilepsy. Early detection and awareness contribute to timely intervention, enhancing overall well-being for those affected by epilepsy.