Every year on the 2nd Monday of February, International Epilepsy Day is celebrated globally to raise awareness about the disease. This year the theme for International Epilepsy Day is ‘Stigma,’ which aims to highlight the stigma that people living with epilepsy have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Many people in our country consider epilepsy as a curse, due to which, people with epilepsy are unable to find suitable jobs, children don’t get admissions to schools and support in education and several marriages are broken because of a stigma of epilepsy.
Many myths and misconceptions also contribute to the stigma surrounding epilepsy and deprive patients of appropriate treatment and management. For instance, people consider epilepsy as a mental disorder that limits a person’s ability to perform certain activities and even think that it is contagious.
To dispel such myths and misinformation and help patients with epilepsy get timely treatment, with this article we aim to increase public awareness on International Epilepsy Day.
What is Epilepsy?
Commonly known as fits, Epilepsy is a disorder that affects the central nervous system due to which our brain shows abnormal electrical activity and causes recurrent and unprovoked epileptic seizures. It is a chronic neurological behaviour which is identified as seizures.
It is one of the most common neurological disorders that roughly affects over 65 million people worldwide. While anyone can develop epileptic fits, it is generally found among people who have a history of brain injury or have inherited it from their family members. In children most of the times, it is of unknown cause.
Even though the exact cause of epilepsy remains unknown, this condition affects more men than women and is commonly seen in children rather than adults. If you or your child is having a series of two unprovoked seizures then you must immediately consult a doctor.
What is a seizure and how is it different from epilepsy?
A sudden rush of electrical activity in the brain is known as a seizure. People who undergo an epileptic attack undergo mild and self-remitting seizures with the following characteristics –
● Loss of consciousness while undergoing a violent episode
● Drooling and or incontinence of bladder
● Abnormal or jerking movements of limbs
People often get confused between epilepsy and seizure. A stark difference between the two is that seizure is a single occurrence of fits whereas epilepsy is recurrent and unpredictable incidents of seizures.
What are the symptoms and causes of Epilepsy?
Symptoms of epilepsy vary from person to person and depend on the type of seizure a person is undergoing. The most common signs and symptoms include –
● Difficulty in movement and stiffness of muscles and joints
● Disruption of senses, or other cognitive functions depending on the severity
● Unavoidable jerks/convulsions in the body
● Psychological symptoms include anxiety and déjà vu
While the exact cause of epilepsy remains largely unknown, some of the pervasive causes of epilepsy are:
● Brain damage, severe head injury or a stroke during birth or gestation causing causes a lack of oxygen transfer to the brain
● Some specific genetic syndromes and abnormalities or associated brain malformations such as arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and cavernous malformations
● Brain tumour or an infection like meningitis, encephalitis, or neurocysticercosis leading to epileptic episodes
What are the common myths associated with epilepsy?
The common myths, misconceptions, and social stigma attached to epilepsy include –
● Epilepsy is contagious – However, the fact is that you cannot simply catch epilepsy like the common cold from one person to another
● People with epilepsy can swallow their tongue – Most people think that people with epilepsy can swallow their tongue during an episode, and try to force things in the mouths of the patients. But, the fact is that you must avoid putting something in the mouth of the patients while they are undergoing a seizure as they recover within a minute.
● Epilepsy makes you disabled and people with epilepsy can’t work – These are the commonest myths that have prevented several people from taking timely treatment. People need to understand that epilepsy is not a mental illness and that patients living with epilepsy possess the same skill sets and intelligence as the rest of us. While some people with epilepsy are unable to work, others are successful and can be found in every sphere of life and at all levels of the business including government, the arts, and the professions.
Why do we need to embrace awareness and encourage early prevention?
It is critical to eradicate these misconceptions associated with the disease and normalize people with epilepsy. If all of us promise to work towards spreading awareness about the disease then we can empower several epileptic patients and their family members to take timely action and specialist care. This can help save the lives of several patients who are dealing with this dreadful disease.
Authored by Dr. Ravi Kumar C P, Consultant – Paediatric Neurology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore