Jeddah: Fouzia Khan
Published — Monday 7 May 2012
Last update 7 May 2012 3:27 am
Although some people still believe in the myth that epilepsy, which is also known as seizure disorder, is related to jinns, science has proved that it is a disease related to the brain.
April 16 is World Epilepsy Awareness Day, an international effort dedicated to increase awareness about epilepsy worldwide. The day is also known as purple day.
Similar efforts were shown at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSHRC) Jeddah by organizing the second epilepsy awareness day at its premises under the supervision of the neuroscience department. There were stalls of epilepsy support and information centers with information on the different procedures of epilepsy treatment, including long-term monitoring, medications, neurosurgery, neuropsychiatry, neuroradiology, diagnostic test, social or psychological support, public information meetings and educational outreach programs for schools.
Dr. Youssef Al-Said, chairman of the neuroscience department and director of the epilepsy center at KFSHRC, told Arab News in an exclusive interview that King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center is the main center for treatment in the country.
“We treat all kinds of epilepsy patients at the King Faisal Epilepsy Treatment Center. We have a comprehensive epilepsy program, consisting of epilogists, doctors, nurses, surgeons, psychiatrists, neurologists,” said Dr. Al-Said.
KFSHRC is one of the excellent centers in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East that receives patients from around the Kingdom.
“We proceed with the treatment according to the needs of the patient. We treat him medically or surgically, and we observe or monitor the patient with long-term monitoring instruments to find out the main cause under the observation of experts,” he explained.
He also explained that many people related epilepsy with supernatural things and acts of jinns. However, epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the nervous system. Epilepsy is also known as seizure disorder, similar to seizures not caused by known medical conditions, like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar.
The seizures in epilepsy may be related to brain injury or a family tendency, but most of the time the cause is unknown. The word "epilepsy" does not indicate anything about the cause of the person's seizures, what type they are, or their severity.
“After finding the seizure problem with long-term monitoring, we do our surgical procedure and MRI, but if we can’t find the problem through this procedure, we do intracranial monitoring of the brain,” said Dr. Al-Said.
About 70 percent of epileptic patients are treated medically, while 20 percent are treated by surgery. The rest is treated with other treatments, like left vagus nerve stimulation, in which they install a pacemaker to inhabit the brain epileptic discharge, or by giving a ketogenic diet to the patient, which helps reducing the incidence of seizures. Relaxation and psychotherapy are also used to treat epileptic patients.
“Installation of a pacemaker is done in a few countries in the world, and KFSHRC is one of the hospitals in the Kingdom that is doing this surgery. The peacemaker reduces seizures by 50 percent,” said Dr. Al-Said.
The doctor explained that epilepsy is a common and curable disease, and that in the US almost 3.5 million people are affected with epilepsy.
“We need to believe that epilepsy is an organic disease; there is a legion in the brain that causes the seizures,” said Dr. Al-Said.
He emphasized the importance of awareness about epilepsy for the public. A patient should be referred to an epilepsy clinic in a specialized hospital, and the family should know where to take the patient.
“I want to say that epilepsy should not carry a bad stigma. It is not an inherited disease, and it is not transmitted at all, so marriage and pregnancy for such people are normal. Just during pregnancy, patients can take antiepileptic medicines with the recommendation of a doctor, which has the very least affect on the baby. Also, taking extra folic acid can save the baby from any harm,” said Dr. Al-Said.
Dr. Al-Said further said they believed 120,000 people are affected with epilepsy in Saudi Arabia, according to the national epilepsy registry record. Around 10,000 patients need surgical treatment. King Faisal Hospital Riyadh dealt with 650 epilepsy cases in the last six years; the Jeddah hospital treated 240 cases with successful results.
About 80 percent of the epileptic patients become seizure-free and can live their life normally after the treatment; only 20 percent suffer for their whole life or have to take medicines.
“I think it is extremely valuable to know what is epilepsy, especially for people who are suffering from the problem. This awareness day gives a lot of experience on how to deal with surgical intervention and problems. It’s a day we celebrate once a year to be part of the world and to carry out our social responsibility,” said Najeeb Yamani, director of community relations.
Many visitors said that awareness programs could give hope to families that treatment is available. It is necessary to bring awareness, and people should learn the importance of a comprehensive program about epilepsy in the country, because it is an extremely challenging disease for the family and society. In Jeddah there is no epilepsy society, which is crucial.
“Raising awareness is essential, and we are not only trying to make society aware and treat patients, but also to train doctors,” said Parwaiz Khalid, acting director of clinical services at KFSHRC.
A visitor, Nada Kavlee, also praised the efforts of the hospital about the awareness program, but she also emphasized on spreading awareness about epilepsy at schools, universities and public places.