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  Home >> Epilepsy  >> Frequently  Ask Questions on Epilepsy

 Frequently  Ask Questions on Epilepsy

Hi there,
     I had signed up to help at Karmayog a while ago. Heres something that I have compiled on Epilepsy.
ONE in every 100 persons in India suffers from epilepsy, but the majority of the affected people remain untreated. That there is an urgent need to work out basic standards of treatment for epilepsy that is accessible to all

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity - from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development - can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, or some combination of these factors. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. EEGs and brain scans are common diagnostic test for epilepsy.

Is there any treatment?
Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 80 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. Some antiepiletic drugs can interfere with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. In 1997, the FDA approved the vagus nerve stimulator for use in people with seizures that are not well-controlled by medication.

What is the prognosis?
Most people with epilepsy lead outwardly normal lives. While epilepsy cannot currently be cured, for some people it does eventually go away. Most seizures do not cause brain damage. It is not uncommon for people with epilepsy, especially children, to develop behavioral and emotional problems, sometimes the consequence of embarrassment and frustration or bullying, teasing, or avoidance in school and other social setting. For many people with epilepsy, the risk of seizures restricts their independence (some states refuse drivers licenses to people with epilepsy) and recreational activities. People with epilepsy are at special risk for two life-threatening conditions: status epilepticus and sudden unexplained death. Most women with epilepsy can become pregnant, but they should discuss their epilepsy and the medications they are taking with their doctors. Women with epilepsy have a 90 percent or better chance of having a normal, healthy baby.

What research is being done?
Scientists are studying potential antiepileptic drugs with goal of enhancing treatment for epilepsy. Scientists continue to study how neurotransmitters interact with brain cells to control nerve firing and how non-neuronal cells in the brain contribute to seizures. One of the most-studied neurotransmitters is GABA, or gamma-aminobutryic acid. Researchers are working to identify genes that may influence epilepsy. This information may allow doctors to prevent epilepsy or to predict which treatments will be most beneficial. Doctors are now experimenting with several new types of therapies for epilepsy, including transplanting fetal pig neurons into the brains of patients to learn whether cell transplants can help control seizures, transplanting stem cells, and using a device that could predict seizures up to 3 minutes before they begin. Researchers are continually improving MRI and other brain scans. Studies have show that in some case, children may experience fewer seizures if they maintain a strict diet - called the ketogenic diet - rich in fats and low in carbohydrates.

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The ancient Indian practice and philosophy of yoga is increasingly becoming a focal point of therapy and research in treating epileptic seizure disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 50 million people in the world have epilepsy. About 75 per cent of these are with seizure disorders, and they hardly receive any medical treatment.

Yoga offers an ancient yet amazingly modern approach to treating seizures. The ancient Indian texts, Vedas describe four types of epilepsy and nine disorders causing convulsions in children. As therapy, the physical discipline of yoga seeks to re-establish a balance (union) between those aspects of a person's health that cause seizures.

Many Illnesses, One Common Symptom
Seizure disorder (or epilepsy) is one of the oldest recorded afflictions of humankind. "Epilepsy" is a word used to describe many illnesses with one common symptom seizures that disrupt the normal activity of the central nervous system. There are dozens of disorders, which may cause seizures. In the language of Ayurveda, epilepsy is called "Apasmara," meaning loss of consciousness.

Yoga Therapy for Seizures
Epileptologist Dr. Nandan Yardi, head of the Yardi Epilepsy Clinic, Kothrud, Pune, India, speaks of the "yogas," when writing about seizure disorders. He points out that seizures, like physical diseases, result when there are imbalances in the various physical and psychological systems (unions) of the body. Yoga is one of the oldest formal practices known whose purpose is to restore this balance.

Pranayama or Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing
As a person slips into a seizure state, s/he should reflexively catch and hold their breath, as if startled or frightened. This causes changes in metabolism, blood flow, and oxygen levels in the brain. The practice of pranayama, i.e., controlled deep diaphragmatic breathing helps restore normal respiration, which can reduce the chances of going into a seizure or stop seizures before they become full blown.

Asanas or Postures
The "asanas" or "yogasanas" aid in restoring balance to the body and its metabolic systems. Practicing asanas increase physical stamina and calm the nervous system. Asanas, used as a physical exercise alone, improve circulation, respiration, and concentration while decreasing the chances of having a seizure.

Dhyana or Meditation
Stress is a well-recognized trigger of seizure activity. "Dhyana" or meditation soothes the mind as it heals the body. Meditation improves blood flow to the brain and slows the production of stress hormones. Meditation also increases the levels of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which keep the body's nervous system calm. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga meditation, is well known as a definitive aid in seizure control.

Research into Yoga for Seizures
In 1996, The Indian Journal of Medical Research published the results of a study on the effects of "Sahaja Yoga" practice on seizure control. The study was not large enough to be considered conclusive. However, its results were so promising, the study caught the attention of researchers in Europe and the North America. In this study, a group of patients with epilepsy practicing "Sahaja Yoga" for six months experienced an 86 per cent decrease in their seizure frequency.

Research carried out at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS, New Delhi) found that meditation improved the brain wave activity of people with seizure disorders leading to a reduction in seizures. In a similar study conducted in the United States concluded that patients who learned to control their breathing had an improvement in their seizure frequency. Dr. Steven Pacia is currently conducting a study at the New York University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center on the use of yoga to decrease seizures in epileptic persons. The art and science of yoga is being discovered anew as a valuable approach to exercise self-control of seizures.
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It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner