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DateLine Sunday, 1 July 2007





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Government Gazette

Body & Soul - Compiled by Shanika Sriyananda

Epileptic children need teachers' help

School absence because of epilepsy rate:

Who can laugh sarcastically when little Meera tells that she wants to become a scientist one day. Hope no one would. It is true that the seizures which attack her from time to time have made her life difficult.

The mischievous girl is compelled to listen to her mother's orders not to do this or that and her teachers advice to be careful when running around fast in school. Yet, thanks to her intelligent parents and teachers who are aware of what Epilepsy is, she, unlike many other small girls and boys of Sri Lanka, is lucky enough because epilepsy could not disrupt her studies.

Yes, Meera, despite being an epileptic may become a genius one day. Epileptic seizures, according to history, could not stop Caesar, Grand Duke Karl Dostoyevsky, Napolean and even Nobel becoming world famous personalities. So how can this illness stop little Meera? But, the problem is, will she get continuous support from her parents as well as from her school teachers to make her dream a reality?

The unfortunate fact is that hundreds of Sri Lankan children, who have a promising future, will say 'NO to school due to the social stigmaattached to theepilepsy and lack of support from the school teachers to study beyond grade six.

Epilepsy is inter connected with so many myths and misconceptions, which are barricades to prevent the ostracising of epileptics. Most patients develop this illness during early childhood and adolescence. This would adversely affect their education, employment, inter-personnel relationships, marriages and pregnancy.

Most patients face serious psychological disability and financial problems due to lack of awareness of the nature and treatability of epilepsy. Epilepsy has been proved that it is not a mental disease or retardation and is a momentary thing which can be easily treatable with simple and cost effective medication.

"The epilepsy is one major factor to children to leave schools early. The school drop out rate due to epilepsy, compared to few years back is high now", Senior Consultant Neurologist of the Colombo National Hospital and the Chairperson of the Epilepsy Task Force (ETF) Dr. Ranjani Gamage said.

Of the total epileptics seek medication at the Special Clinic at the CNH, over 50 percent have left at grade five and only 25 per cent have studied up to G.C.E Ordinary Level. "This is not the figures representing the entire country but only from the cases reported to the clinic", she said.

According to Dr. Gamage, the awareness should begin with the primary school teachers, who can play a major role in attitudal change. "Parents should also be aware that this disease is treatable and the children can lead to a very healthy adulthood. The treatment procedure is also simple, where the child who got fits or seizures, need be under continues period medication", she explained.

She said that though epilepsy is a very common problem in the childhood, majority of school teachers would say the parents to keep their children at home till they recover from fits.

"Parents also due to lack of knowledge they cage their children at home without sending them to schools.

This should not happen, as whether the child is at home or at school the risk is there and the whole security of the child lies with the teachers or the parents. Only thing that they should do is take care of the child and pay more attention to his or her movement", she said.

In fact, she said that the teachers should encourage these children to attend school and also diagnose the symptoms first and the need to refer to a doctor.

Dr. Gamage said that epilepsy, which majority people still think that is due to supper natural force, is a myth and could not bring a relief through 'bali thovil' (religious ceremony to drive out evil sprits). "Over 70 per cent of the patients get cured totally with continues medication and 15 to 20 per cent will get rid of seizures after surgery but less than 10 per cent of the patients suffer from prolong epilepsy as it can not be controlled due to some serious conditions.

"Out of 300,000 people over 90 per cent of patients have very productive lives and live without fears of seizure attacks", she pointed out.


What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition of the nervous system that affects over 300,000 Sri Lankans and over 2.5 million Americans. More than 180,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy every year in USA.

Epilepsy comes from a Greek word meaning "to hold or seize," and people who have epilepsy have seizures. People have seizures when the electrical signals in the brain misfire. The brain's normal electrical activity is disrupted by these overactive electrical discharges, causing a temporary communication problem between nerve cells. Epilepsy is not contagious too.

Seizures happen when there is unusual electrical activity in the brain. Your brain cells are constantly sending out electrical signals that travel along nerves to the rest of the body. So Epilepsy:

* is not the only cause of childhood seizures
* is not a mental illness
* does not usually affect intelligence
* is not contagious

It can be scary watching someone have an epileptic seizure. The person may lose consciousness or seem unaware of what's going on, make involuntary motions like the person has no control over his movement- such as jerking or thrashing one or more parts of the body or an experience unusual feelings or sensations.

What triggers epilepsy:
* flashing or bright lights
* a lack of sleep
* stress
* over stimulation (like staring at a computer screen or playing video games for too long)
* fever
* certain medications

What causes epilepsy?

No clear cause for epilepsy but scientists have identified that following are some of the things that can make a person more likely to develop epilepsy:

* a brain injury, such as from a car crash or bike accident

* an infection or illness that affected the developing brain of a fetus during pregnancy

* lack of oxygen to an infant's brain during childbirth

* meningitis, encephalitis, or any other type of infection that affects the brain

* brain tumours or strokes

* poisoning, such as lead or alcohol poisoning

Understanding seizures

Seizures may look frightening, but they are not painful. They affect different people in different ways. Epileptic seizures fall into two main categories: partial and generalized. Partial seizures start in one part of the brain.

The electrical disturbances may then move to other parts of the brain or they may stay in one area until the seizure is over. A person having a partial seizure may lose consciousness.

There may be twitching of a finger or several fingers, a hand or arm, or a leg or foot. Certain facial muscles might twitch. Speech may become slurred, unclear, or unusual during the seizure. The person's vision might be affected temporarily.

He or she might feel tingling throughout one side of her body. It all depends on where in the brain the abnormal electrical activity is taking place. Generalised seizures involve electrical disturbances that occur all over the brain at the same time. The person may look like he or she is daydreaming, may stare off into space, or may pass out.

The muscles may stiffen and the person may make sudden jerking motions, such as flinging the arms outward. He or she may suddenly go limp and slump down or fall over.

Most seizures last only a few seconds or minutes. After a seizure is over, the person may feel sleepy or confused for a few minutes or even an hour or more. People who have had seizures may not remember the seizure or what happened immediately before the event.

They may be alert and ready to resume whatever they were doing before the seizure happened. It varies from person to person.

What you should do:

Tell the people close to you - friends, relatives, teachers, coaches - about your epilepsy and teach them what to do in case you have a seizure when they are with you. Some of the things friends can do to help someone who's having a seizure are:

* Stay calm.

* Help, but don't force, the person to lie down on his or her side, preferably on a soft surface, and place something soft under the person's head.

* Take the person's glasses or backpack off and loosen any tight clothing near the neck.

* Don't restrain or hold the person.

* Move objects, especially sharp or hard ones, away from the person.

* Stay with the person or make sure another friend or trusted person stays with him or her.

* Talk with the person in a calm, reassuring way after the seizure is over.

* Observe the event and be able to describe what happened before, during, and after the seizure.

* Do not place an object into the person's mouth during a seizure. Epilepsy sounds frightening, but managing it can be simple. If you have epilepsy, follow your treatment plan.

* Get plenty of sleep. Eat right. And exercise to reduce stress and stay in shape.

What you should do when a child has a seizure: During a seizure, it's very important to stay calm and keep your child safe. Be sure to:

* Lay your child down away from furniture, stairs, or radiators.

* Put something soft under his or her head.

* Turn your child on his or her side so fluid in the mouth can come out. Never stick anything in your child's mouth or try to restrain him or her. It's important to make sure that other adults who care for your child 'family members, baby sitters, teachers, coaches, etc.' know that your child has epilepsy, understand the condition, and know what to do in the event of a seizure.

Offer your child plenty of support, discuss epilepsy openly, and answer questions honestly.

Kids with epilepsy may be embarrassed about the seizures, or worry about having one at school or with friends. Consider having your child talk with a mental health counsellor or psychologist if he or she struggles with these feelings.

How to survive a heart attack when alone

Heart attack or Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the No. 1 killer in Sri Lanka. In the recent past this devastating condition seems to affect the younger generation, either killing them or disabling them.

Hence the time is ripe for us to learn how to survive a heart attack when you are alone. You may have learnt or read about how to perform (CPR) Cardio pulmonary Resuscitation but unfortunately you were not told how to perform it. Are you, the obese, cigarette-smoking, highly strung, individual who is under constant stress over various issues facing your daily life?

Beware when you are returning home after a hard day's, work, if you suddenly develop a severe pain in your upper chest that seems to spread out in to your upper arm and jaw and it is likely you are experiencing a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

What can you do?

If you are alone, about five minutes away from the nearest hospital and uncertain whether you will reach there in time, the next few times could save your life When you suffer from a heart attack you will feel faintish, dizzy and your heart will beat improperly or irregularly, You have about 10 seconds before losing consciousness! steps:

1. Do not panic, but start coughing repeatedly and vigorously.

2. A deep breath should be taken before each cough.

3. The cough must be deep, and prolonged as if when producing sputum from deep inside the chest.

4. A breath and a cough must be repeated about every 2 seconds without a pause until help arrives or until you feel your heart is beating regularly.

How does it help?

Deep breathing will get oxygen in to the lungs and coughing movements will squeeze the heart and keep the blood circulating. The squeezing pressure on the heart also helps it to regain normal rhythm. In this way you may survive to get to the nearest hospital.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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