9th January 2000

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Facts and fallacies about fits

Epilepsy- or 'fits' in common parlance- is a disease associated with many myths and much stigma. It is a condition that warrants serious attention but it is also a condition that can be readily controlled with modern treatment. Here are some myths associated with the illness- and the relevant facts:

Epilepsy is a rare and serious illness:

Epilepsy is by no means rare- all over the world, about one in twenty people have had at least one 'fit' during their lives and about one in two hundred are eventually diagnosed as 'Epileptics'. It is an illness with serious consequences if left untreated but if treated properly, a near normal life is possible. To cite just one example, famous cricketer turned commentator Tony Greig had Epilepsy in his childhood.

Epilepsy is due to evil spirits:

This belief too is widespread in our society- specially if the fit does not have features typical of Epilepsy. It leads to patients seeking solace in native rituals ('thovil') instead of obtaining proper treatment. A 'fit' is not due to any supernatural influence- it is only due to a sudden, poorly co-ordinated electrical activity in the brain.

Epilepsy is infectious:

Epilepsy is not infectious because it is not caused by a bacteria or virus. However in some families, there may be a tendency for the disease to manifest and therefore more than one member of the family may develop the condition.

A fit is relieved when a metal object is given to the hand of the patient.

There is no scientific basis for this practice. The majority of all fits last only a few minutes- so, just when such a metal object is given to a patient, the patient recovers! In fact, if the fit continues while the patient has such an object in his hand, he may harm himself, so it is best avoided.

All fits are life threatening and patients should be rushed to hospital.

The majority of all fits subside within a few minutes and do not require any treatment at all. However, care must be taken to prevent any harm to the patient during the fit and this is best done by turning the patient to a side and keeping him away from water, fire or any other harmful object.

Children who have fits could become seriously ill later.

Fits in children are common when they develop fever, especially in the six months to two years age group. The majority of these children will not have fits later in life and therefore need never be on anti-epileptic drugs. In children the control of fever is more important.

Feeling thirsty, tired, and losing weight

Even though type 2 Diabetes (the kind that develops in adults) is so common in Sri Lanka, many people do not realise that they have the condition because the symptoms of Diabetes are so "commonplace".

For example, one of the commonest features of Diabetes is feeling thirsty. If you frequently become thirsty you tend to drink a lot more fluid - and if you drink a lot, you will obviously need to go more frequently to the bathroom!

It's easy to think this is because you are either working too hard or the weather is so hot or because you are just plain thirsty! Another symptom is feeling very tired. You feel tired because you have too much sugar in your body and this slows your thinking and affects your judgment. But it is easy to be under the impression that your tiredness is due to your having too much work to do in the office or at home! Sometimes, Diabetes makes you lose weight. This is because the food that you eat cannot be used by your body for growth and repair of body cells. Diabetes is seen so often in our country that once you reach middle age it is wise to get a special check done by your family doctor every year - especially if:

* You are over 50 years of age.
* one or both your parents had diabetes.
* you are overweight.
* you feel tired all the time.
* you pass urine frequently and you are always feeling thirsty.
* you lose a lot of weight over a short period.
* you had high blood sugar while pregnant.

Better to get a check-up done and find out the condition in its early stages, or even if you have not got the disease - rather than put it off until diabetes really starts causing damage to your body!

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