10 mn suffer from epilepsy in India, treatment gap huge


New Delhi : Around 10 million people in India – every 10 out of 1,000 people – have epilepsy, but most do not have access to proper treatment, especially in rural areas, which portrays the “dismal state of affairs” concerning the health condition in India, according to a health expert.

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“The treatment gap, which means epilepsy patients not getting treatment or getting inadequate treatment, is huge – around 70-90 percent. This is a dismal state of affairs,” said Mamta Bhushan Singh, assistant professor in the department of neurology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here.

Compared to the number of people who have epilepsy, there are very few neurologists in the country. “There is a pressing need to educate people on epilepsy in order to help those suffering from it. We need educators, counsellors besides doctors, to help because epilepsy is a treatable disease,” Singh said at a talk on ‘Epilepsy: Need for greater awareness’ at the India International Centre Tuesday evening.

There are quite a number of epilepsy cases that are “preventable”, said the doctor. Elaborating, she said, avoid eating green leafy vegetables served in hotels, especially those served raw in sandwiches and in Chinese dishes, which are partially cooked. These could contain tapeworm eggs, which when ingested could reach the brain and trigger a seizure.

Another cause is children falling off open roofs, without ramparts, during play and hurting their heads. Many two-wheeler drivers and pillion riders do not wear helmets and hurt their heads during a fall, which causes scarring of the brain and epilepsy attacks.

Babies born at home are at risk of getting epilepsy, she said. “The baby born at home could cry late and there would be no doctor to provide immediate treatment, this could lead to epilepsy. A difficult birthing could also result in the baby developing epilepsy,” Singh said.

Excessive alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation can also trigger epilepsy attacks.

In some places in south India and Sri Lanka, some women got epilepsy attacks after pouring hot water on their heads. “Quite a few cases were reported of women getting epilepsy seizures after pouring hot water on their heads during a bath.”

These cases are called “reflex epilepsy”, where the cause acts like a trigger. In cases like these, once the cause is identified, the episode of epilepsy goes away, she said.

Don’t pin down a person getting an epilepsy attack, just make him/her lie down on one side and remove any sharp objects from near the person. Don’t also try to put something in their mouth.

Nowadays there are very good drugs to treat epilepsy and it is entirely manageable, Singh said