Some superheroes fight crimes, others save lives but do we know there are super heroes fighting epilepsy.
My first day at pediatrics was exciting. The sight of a handsome boy captivated my mind but at some point, his face was masked in agony, his screams I still cannot forget, he was seizing. I felt those moments and I questioned myself “is he not too young to be epileptic?” Yet he was a happy child behind the frequent seizures and a battle of a lifetime. He is indeed a superhero.
What is epilepsy?
You might have seen it at the market place, at work or school a situation where someone would all of a sudden start to tremble and scream and everyone would run away and be saying the individual is being possessed by some jinn? In most cases, it is not the case.
Epilepsy is a common chronic central nervous system disorder that affects the brain’s function causing the brain activities to be abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness.
Seizures are bursts of electrical activities in the brain that temporarily affect its function. A mild seizure can be difficult to recognize and can last only a few seconds during which you lack awareness. Stronger seizures can last for several minutes and can cause patterns and uncontrolled muscle twitches. During strong seizures some people might become confused or lose consciousness and may have no memory of it afterwards. In the Wolof language, we normally refer to it as “daanu rap.”
Who can be epileptic?
It is most common in children and older adults but the condition can occur at any age, affect any gender and any race. A familiar history of epilepsy puts people at an increased risk of developing seizure disorders or epilepsy. According to the WHO, globally an estimated 5 million people are diagnosed each year, pretty scary huh! In high income countries an estimate of 49 per 100000 people yearly and in low- and middle-income countries it can be as high as 139 a 100000 people yearly with male patients having higher incidence. In 2018 epilepsy deaths in the Gambia was 0.5% of the total deaths.
What causes epilepsy?
In most cases it is not clear what the cause actually is. It possibly could be partly caused by your genes affecting how your brain functions or can be caused by damages to your brain including:
o Birth trauma
o Congenital (present at birth) problems
o Metabolic or chemical imbalances in the body
o Alcohol or drugs
o Brain Infection
o Congenital conditions
o Genetic factors
o Brain tumor
o Severe head injury
o Lack of oxygen at birth
o Trauma (physical)
o Immune system abnormalities
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Seizure is the most prominent symptom of epilepsy.
Seizures can affect people in different ways, depending on which part of the brain is involved.
Possible symptoms include :
o Jerking movements of the arms and legs
o Stiffening of the body
o Loss of consciousness
o Breathing problems or breathing stops
o Loss of bowel or bladder control
o Falling suddenly for no apparent reason, especially when associated with loss of consciousness
o Not responding to noise or words for brief periods
o Appearing confused
o Nodding the head rhythmically, when associated with loss of awareness or even loss of consciousness
o Periods of rapid eye blinking and staring
During the seizure, lips may appear bluish and breathing may not be normal. The movements are often followed by a period of sleep or disorientation.
Does epilepsy have a cure?
Sadly, there is no cure for epilepsy. There are, however, many treatments and therapies available to help patients with epilepsy become seizure-free, including medication, anti-seizure devices, and surgery.
While a majority of patients with epilepsy will achieve seizure freedom, more than 30% do not respond to medication at all, and their seizures remain uncontrolled.
Treatment and management would include:
o medicines called anti-epileptic drugs – these are the main treatment.
o surgery to remove a small part of the brain that’s causing the seizures.
o a procedure to put a small electrical device inside the body that can help control seizures
o a special diet (ketogenic diet) that can help control seizures
Some people need treatment for life. But you might be able to stop treatment if your seizures disappear over time.
The fact that our society believes that epilepsy is of spiritual cause makes it difficult to treat and manage patients. Most patients are often isolated and lack the emotional they need and this hinders treatment and management.
Living with epilepsy
Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition, but most people with it are able to have normal lives if their seizures are well controlled. You should always consult your doctor before driving, planning pregnancy or involve in any tedious sport activities and any activity that might put you in the risk of having an attack. Epileptic patients are not disabled, they’re special people with special needs. They should not be discriminated but rather they should be loved, cherished and supported. They should not be confined to houses; they deserve a normal life like any other person.
Patients living with epilepsy need maximum emotional support and love from society. This would help in their treatment and management.
Epilepsy is not a death sentence.
Every epileptic patient is a SUPERHERO.