Tuesday, 17 November 2009

National Epilepsy Day November 17: Myths, misconceptions, stigma still continue with epilepsy or seizures

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 15: Epilepsy shrouds in myths. No other disease is as enigmatic as epilepsy and despite so much advancement in science, people continue to hold their myths about this neurological disorder. The common myth is that it is a mental illness and affects one's intellectual functioning.
As India observes the national epilepsy day on Tuesday, health researchers and medical experts clarify that epilepsy is not a psychological condition and it is not contagious. It is a common problem with four to 10 out of every 1000 people suffering from it. There's no cure for epilepsy and yet it could be controlled effectively.
"Seizures are caused by a transient, excessive and abnormal discharge of nerve cells. It can be treated. Any person can develop epilepsy at any time and there's no age restriction," says senior neurologist Dr M
Tripathi.
A disease surrounded by myths, people try to "lessen" the problem by putting an object, mainly made of iron, in the mouth of the patient. This many feel will prevent the patient from biting the tongue. Iron objects are also thrust into the hands of the person under seizure. This, doctors say, will only aggravate the problem, exposing the person to the risk of injury.
"The patient should be placed on his side so the tongue falls away and to the side. Do not try to restrain the person. Though there's no known cure for epilepsy, the problem can be fully or partially controlled through proper medication," he points out.
Though the brain is involved in epilepsy, it does not affect the intellect of an individual. It is not a mental illness. Historical records show that several world leaders including Alexander the Great, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, dynamite discoverer Alfred Nobel, eminent physicist Sir Isaac Newton and ancient mathematical genius Pythagorus experienced seizures.
According to neurologist and medical author Dr S Jain, one in every 10 people may experience a seizure in their lifetime. However, the seizure may not necessarily be due to epilepsy. "There are several myths that
surround the disorder. The problem could be tackled quite easily if we create awareness among people. This is because epilepsy has become common all over the world," he points out.
Even as the disease is surrounded by misconceptions, a team of scientists at Cardiff University discovered that studying the way a person's brain ''sings" could shed light on epilepsy and schizophrenia. Further studies on this aspect will help scientists understand the reason behind neurological problems like epilepsy and find a possible cure.
According to them, a person's brain produces a unique electrical oscillation at a particular frequency when he or she looks at a visual pattern. The frequency of this oscillation appears to be determined by the concentration of the neurotransmitter called GABA or gamma-aminobutyric-acid.
The more GABA is present, the higher the frequency or "note" of the oscillation. GABA is a key inhibitory neurotransmitter and is essential for the normal operation of the brain.

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