Citizen Reporter
2 minute read
5 Mar 2022
6:30 am

Debunking myths surrounding epilepsy

Citizen Reporter

Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, but there are other factors they may be attributed to.

Diagnosing and treating epilepsy is not simple and there are many misperceptions about this neurological condition, say specialists from epilepsy monitoring units.

But accurate diagnosis is key for optimal treatment, Dr Shaheed Gora, a neurologist practicing at the specialised epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, said: “When people think of epilepsy, convulsive seizures may spring to mind.

“As doctors, we know that seizures may be attributable to other causes and that epilepsy takes various forms, some of which do involve convulsive seizures, but also others that do not.

“Epilepsy is believed to affect 55 million people worldwide, and approximately one percent of South Africans. This neurological disease is not contagious and certainly is no indication that a person is mentally deficient,” Dr Gora added.

“It is even believed that the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, and historical figures including Roman emperor Julius Caesar and French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte – both revered for their political and military strategies – were epileptic.”

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Dr Vanmala Naidoo, a neurologist at Netcare Mulbarton and Netcare Vaalpark hospitals’ EMUs, said there were many different types of epilepsy and seizures that present in many different ways.

“While some epileptics experience convulsive or grand mal seizures, characterised by the body stiffening and uncontrolled muscle jerking, other types of epilepsy may involve atonic seizures, where the person briefly loses control of their muscles and collapses, or absence seizures, where the person may stare into the distance for up to 10 seconds.”

A seizure is defined as a surge in the electrical impulses of the brain, causing a number of symptoms depending on which area of the brain is affected. Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, but there are other factors they may be attributed to.

Dr Raksha Sitharam, a neurologist at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand, said: “As epilepsy is a complex group of conditions, diagnosis is not always simple. There are other conditions that may present in ways similar to certain types of epilepsy and to effectively treat the patient, these would need to either be ruled out or confirmed.”

Medical and family history will be considered and a clinical examination performed. An electroencephalogram test will be performed to record electrical activity in the brain.

The doctor may also ask for eyewitness accounts of the patient having a seizure. MRI or CT scans are also used to identify the cause of seizures.