Frequently Asked Questions

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EPILEPSY.

Even though epilepsy affects a large chunk of the population, it is often misunderstood and associated with social stigma. In fact, people even mistake it to be demonic possession or consider epilepsy to be a form of madness which requires mental asylum. In rural areas epileptic patients even suffer from isolation, as people wrongly believe that the disease can spread from contact and prevent epileptic individuals from getting married. These myths deprive patients of genuine medical treatment which can control epilepsy and help them lead a normal lifestyle. This handout therefore aims to spread awareness about epilepsy and its management.

Q:  What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain cells that leads to recurrent seizures. Recurrent seizures often occur as episodes that last for several minutes. During a seizure, there is a sudden, erratic and excessive outburst of electrical activity in the electrical circuits of the brain. This causes abnormal behaviour in a person.

 

Q:  If I get one seizure then do I have epilepsy?

One single episode of a seizure may or may not be a part of epilepsy. It can also be a symptom of different conditions that can affect the brain, e.g. kidney failure, liver failure, excessive alcohol or illegal drug intake, reaction to some medication, change in blood glucose levels etc. In epilepsy, seizures occur repeatedly.

 

Q:  What are the causes of epilepsy?

The underlying reasons of epilepsy are different for people of different ages. Some of them are:

  • Abnormality in brain wiring
  • Bleeding inside the brain
  • Brain tumors
  • Family history of epilepsy
  • Infections in the brain, e.g. brain abscess
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Serious head injury
  • Stroke

 

Q:  What are the symptoms of an epileptic attack?
Different symptoms can occur at different times. These are also dependent on the area of the brain involved in the epileptic attack. Some of the prominent symptoms are
  • Staring
  • Jerky movements of the arms or legs
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Tongue biting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falling suddenly for no apparent reason
  • Not responding to noise or words for brief periods
  • Appearing confused or dazed

 

Q: How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Epilepsy is diagnosed by an Epileptologist  (a neurologist who specialises in treating epilepsy)  with the help of information about the events that happened before an attack, during the attack and after the attack. The description of such events can be given by the patients as well as witnesses of the epileptic attack.Apart from this, the doctor can ask for blood tests and brain scans such as a CT (Computed Tomography) scan, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan or an EEG (Electroencephalography).

 

Q: What are the treatment options available?

Medical Management: Specific anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) can be prescribed for a seizure depending on the patient’s medical history, type and frequency of seizures, related illnesses and expected level of tolerance. Ketogenic Diet: In some cases especially in children, when the medication alone is not sufficient to control seizures, a special diet called a Ketogenic diet – a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, is recommended by the doctor. Surgery: In case epilepsy is unmanageable by anti-epileptic drugs, surgery could be considered. Especially in cases where seizures are caused by a brain tumor, abnormal connection in blood vessels, mal-development of brain since childhood or other conditions that can be treated with surgery, doctors may operate to treat these underlying conditions.

 

Q:  What are the measures that one should take to control or avoid seizure?

  • Relax and get a good amount of sleep
  • Avoid triggers such as alcohol, stress, flashing lights, etc.
  • Maintain timely intake of medications
  • Keep a seizure diary for better management
  •  If your seizures are not completely under control despite medication, avoid the following situations:
  • High altitude climbing
  • Swimming alone
  • Bathing in a bathtub
  • Cooking over an open fire