Mumbai: Despite the fact that 30 million people in India suffer from various neurological diseases, the awareness about epilepsy, the most common neurological disorder, is abysmally low and sufferers often end up being ridiculed and stigmatised. In India, there are about 12 million persons with epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a disease of the brain characterized by recurrent seizures, which are brief episodes of involuntary movement that may involve a part of the body (partial) or the entire body (generalised).
Dr Kaustubh Mahajan, neurologist, Mumbai, says people with epilepsy should not hide their condition, must consult a doctor, take treatment regularly and lead a normal life. It is important for people to be aware that epilepsy has other signs and symptoms, like sudden change in level of awareness, detachment from reality, stuttering or inability to speak, palpitations and confusion, lip-smacking, and unresponsiveness.
“Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells sometimes signal abnormally, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behaviour, or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. It can occur at any age,” added Dr Mahajan.
Epilepsy has significant economic implications in terms of health care needs, premature death and lost work productivity. People living with epilepsy can be targets of prejudice. This can discourage people from seeking treatment for symptoms, so as to avoid becoming identified with the disorder.
Although the social effects vary from country to country, the discrimination and social stigma that surrounds epilepsy worldwide are often more difficult to overcome than the seizures themselves.
Another neurologist, Dr Daanish Chhapra, says it is challenging for women with epilepsy to deal with the condition and the accompanying stigma, due to the attitude and perception of the society, but this can be changed with correct awareness and education of the disorder/condition. The social stigma associated with epilepsy can have a significant psychological impact, particularly in countries like India, with reduced opportunities for marriage, education and employment, resulting in social isolation.
Epilepsy continues to be plagued by dogma and misconceptions. This is in spite of concerted awareness campaigns to emphasise the fact that contrary to popular belief, epilepsy is neither contagious, nor associated with witchcraft and people with epilepsy are not mentally ill. Epilepsy Day is observed to highlight the problems faced by people living with epilepsy and to replace fear and ignorance with care and understanding.