Ludo actor Fatima Sana Shaikh has opened up about her struggles with epilepsy and how she deals with the neurological disorder. Taking to Instagram, the Bollywood actor in an ‘ask-me-anything’ session answered her followers’ questions about epilepsy and when she discovered that she had it.
“(I) was diagnosed when I was training for Dangal. I got an episode and woke up straight at the hospital… (I) was in denial first (for five years). And now, I have learnt to embrace it, and work and live around it,” she wrote.
On how she copes with the disorder, the Ajeeb Daastaans actor said she has a “good support system” consisting of her family, friends and pet (Bijlee), adding that “some days are good”, but some are “not so great”.
The 30-year-old said the disorder has not affected her passion and instead it “pushes and drives” her to work “harder”.
Shaikh also busted some myths about the condition, saying the struggles are “serious and disabling”. “It’s not all in the mind. It can be fatal and leave you with major disabilities,” she added.
The actor has spoken about the disorder amid National Epilepsy Awareness Month which is observed in November.
What is epilepsy, the condition Fatima Sana Shaikh is suffering from? What are its symptoms, causes and treatments? How common is the disease in India? Let’s take a closer look.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects as many as 50 million people globally.
The chronic noncommunicable disease is identified by “recurrent seizures, which are brief episodes of involuntary movement that may involve a part of the body (partial) or the entire body (generalized) and are sometimes accompanied by loss of consciousness and control of bowel or bladder function,” says the World Health Organization (WHO).
Also called a seizure disorder, epilepsy can affect anyone irrespective of their age, sex or race notes the Cleveland Clinic website.
A seizure is defined as “abnormal and excessive electrical activity” in our brain cells that affect our behaviour and actions.
Epilepsy accounts for 0.5 per cent of the global burden of disease.
The United Nations health agency says those with epilepsy may have higher rates of physical issues like fractures and other injuries related to seizures, and also more psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
“The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is up to three times higher than in the general population, with the highest rates of premature mortality found in low- and middle-income countries and in rural areas,” the WHO elaborates.
Symptoms and causes of epilepsy
The seizure symptoms can differ depending on where the disturbance started in the brain and how far it spread.
Temporary symptoms include loss of awareness or consciousness, stiff muscles, confusion, uncontrollable jerking of arms or legs, psychological symptoms like fear, anxiety or deja vu, blank stare or ‘staring into space’, etc.
According to Mayo Clinic, generally, at least two seizures without a known trigger that occur a minimum of 24 hours apart lead to an epilepsy diagnosis.
The WHO states that the causes of the disorder can be divided into these categories: structural, genetic, infectious, metabolic, immune and unknown.
Some of the known causes include severe head injury, brain infections like brain abscess, meningitis, encephalitis and neurocysticercosis, genetic conditions with associated brain malformations, brain conditions such as brain tumours and strokes, and genetic conditions among others.
Treatment for epilepsy
There is no cure for epilepsy, however, the seizures can be treated.
Seizures can be brought under control with the help of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), special diets and sometimes surgery.
“About 70 per cent of people become seizure-free with proper treatment within a few years. The remaining 30 per cent are considered to have drug-resistant epilepsy. These people should go to an epilepsy centre to determine if they’re candidates for epilepsy surgery,” suggests Cleveland Clinic.
Epilepsy in India
Around 60 lakh people in India have epilepsy, reports Economic Times.
A few days back, NDTV reported that a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus driver, who suffered an epileptic fit, rammed the large vehicle into an autorickshaw in front of Tis Hazari Court.
A computer science engineer working in an MNC in Kerala’s Kochi had told Economic Times in February that she had sudden “episodes” where she lost awareness and had no recollection of what happened during that time. She shared that these “episodes”, known as “epileptic fits” or “seizures”, lasted for a few seconds to one minute and would occur twice or thrice a week.
After undergoing epilepsy surgery, the engineer identified as Anita has been seizure-free for six years.
However, not everyone in the country seeks treatment for the disorder due to multiple reasons.
As per National Library of Medicine (NLM), “The lack of knowledge of antiepileptic drugs, poverty, cultural beliefs, stigma, poor health infrastructure, and shortage of trained professionals contribute to the treatment gap”.
The treatment gap in India ranges from 22 per cent among urban, middle-income people to 90 per cent in rural areas, says the NLM’s 2014 article on Epilepsy: Indian perspective.
Dr Rakesh Agrawal, an expert on epilepsy from Apollo Hospitals had told Times of India in 2012 that there is a serious social stigma linked to epilepsy in rural India. “Epilepsy is quite a serious problem in India. While 60 per cent of people in urban India consult a doctor after suffering a seizure, only 10 per cent in rural India would do so”, Dr Agrawal said.
The burden of epilepsy can be narrowed though.
The NLM article states by poverty alleviation and by reducing the preventable causes of the disorder such as perinatal issues (loss of oxygen or trauma during birth, low birth weight, etc.), parasitic diseases, and head injuries, the burden of the disease can be decreased in the country.
With inputs from agencies