According to the World Health Organisation, one percent of people in the world suffer from epilepsy or seizure-related disorders, which is equal to the number of people suffering from breast cancer in women and lung cancer in men. Suffering from epilepsy is equal to suffering from depression, dementia or substance abuse. Last Wednesday (March 26) was World Epilepsy Day.
Dr Harirama Acharya, senior consultant and Head of the Department of Neurology at Fortis Hospital in the city, said, “Epilepsy affects around 50 million people worldwide but many in the general public know little about it and much of what they know is incorrect. Considering that a large population is affected with epilepsy, there is a crunch in research work in this field.”
Dr Vikram Huded, Head of Interventional Neurology and stroke at Narayana Health City, said epilepsy is definitely under-diagnosed in India because of the social stigma associated with it. He said, “The superstition is especially high among villagers who believe that epileptic seizures are due to demonic possessions. The stigma in turn leads to growth of fear and unawareness. Thus, there are very few patients who actually visit doctors for proper diagnosis. Moreover, the sad fact is that there are some doctors who cannot even identify the types of epilepsy.”
India as a country still lacks the required level of awareness that is necessary to counteract a disease such as epilepsy, he added.
There are gender-based differences in epilepsy, other health considerations, hormonal changes and social function, according to experts. It affects a woman differently than it would affect a man because women are biologically different and also have the role of child bearing.
Epilepsy could be caused because of abnormal brain development due to genetic factors, an illness or injury, say experts. One should guard against head injuries by taking minor precautions such as wearing a helmet when riding a vehicle. Scarring of brain could also lead to seizures. It can be prevented by genetic screening and good prenatal care. It is treatable and there are good medications with which patients can lead a normal life.
In India, there are around 6 million epilepsy patients, said Dr Acharya. Although, there are millions of cases in the country, we still do not have a national policy for this condition. This disease is still not considered a major health threat. A person with this disorder needs early diagnosis and proper treatment, he added.
“Most commonly, epilepsy occurs among children and the elderly. In 70-80 per cent cases, seizures can be controlled with the help of medication. In the remaining 20 per cent, the most common treatment option pursued is surgery,” Dr Acharya said.