Diagnosing and treating epilepsy is not easy and there are many misconceptions about this neurological condition, epilepsy monitoring unit specialists say.
But an accurate diagnosis is key for optimal treatment, said Dr. Shaheed Gora, a neurologist practicing with the Specialized Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, said: “When people think of epilepsy, convulsions can occur to them.
“As doctors, we know that seizures can be due to other causes and that epilepsy takes different forms, some of which are associated with convulsions, but some are not.
“Epilepsy is believed to affect 55 million people worldwide, and about one percent of South Africans. This neurological disease is not contagious and is certainly not an indication that someone is mentally retarded,” added Dr. Gora to it.
“It is even believed that the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates and historical figures including the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar and the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte – both revered for their political and military strategies – were epileptic.”
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dr. Vanmala Naidoo, a neurologist with the EMUs of Netcare Mulbarton and Netcare Vaalpark hospitals, said there are many different types of epilepsy and seizures that present themselves in many different ways.
While some epileptics experience convulsive or grand mal seizures, characterized by stiffening of the body and uncontrolled muscle twitching, other forms of epilepsy may be accompanied by atonic seizures, in which the person briefly loses control of their muscles and collapses, or absenteeism seizures, in which the person can stare into the distance for up to 10 seconds.”
A seizure is defined as an increase in the brain’s electrical impulses, which causes a number of symptoms depending on which part of the brain is affected. Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, but there are also other factors to which they can be attributed.
dr. Raksha Sitharam, a neurologist at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand, said: “Because epilepsy is a complex group of conditions, the diagnosis is not always straightforward. There are other conditions that can present in ways similar to certain types of epilepsy and in order to treat the patient effectively, these are excluded or confirmed.”
Medical and family history will be considered and a clinical examination will be performed. An electroencephalogram test will be performed to record electrical activity in the brain.
The doctor may also request eyewitness accounts of the patient having a seizure. MRI or CT scans are also used to identify the cause of seizures.
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