Epilepsy refers to a chronc condition in which repeated fits or attacks of unconsciousness occur with or without convulsions. It is a serious disorder of the central nervous system caused by abnormal electrical activity of the brain. It occurs in both children and adults. Most attacks, however, occur in childhood and in early adult life. Attack rates show a progressive decline in frequency with age.
Epilepsy is a very ancient disease. The actual word ‘epilepsy’ comes from the Greek word, which means ‘ to seize upon’ . The ancient people believed that evil spirits entered the body of the persons affected, seized upon his soul and threw his body into convulsions. The greeks believed that the gods induced this disease. The early Christians blamed the Devil for these convulsions.
A child should never be labelled as having epilepsy following a single convulsion. Epilepsy is recognised by recurrent sudden attacks at irregular intervals. The child-patient twitches convulsively and falls unconscious to the ground during these attacks which cause tremendous nervous unheaval. There are two main types of epilepsy known as petit mal and grand mal. Each follows its own specific pattern.
In petit mal, which is a less serious form of epilepsy,an attack comes and goes within a few seconds. The patient has a momentary loss of consciousness, with no convulsions, except someties a slight rigidity, or there may be a slight attack of convulsion such as a jerk, or a movement of eyes, head, trunk or extremities, with no perceptible loss of consciousness. The patient may not fall. He may suddenly stop what he is doing and then resume it when the attack is over, without even being aware of what has happened. Petit mal attacks may occur at any time in life but are most frequent in children.
The attack in case of grand mal comes with a dramatic effect. There are violent contractions of the arms, legs, and body, accompanied by a sudden loss of consciousness. Before the onset of an attack, some patients get a warning in the form of strange sensations. In young children this may not be described but the mother can often recognise a typical pattern of behaviour.
In a typical attack, the child cries out, falls to the ground, loses consciousness and develops convulsions. The convulsions may be accompanied with the mouth, twitching of the muscles, biting of the tongue, disorted fixation of limbs, rotation of the head and deviation of the eyes. The child may lose control of his urine and faeces. The attack may last several minutes and is usually followed by a deep sleep. On waking up, he may be confused or irritable. He may not remember anything about the attack. Grand mal spasms, particularly the first one, are very frightening to the parents. They often think that the child is going to die and this feeling continues through many attacks until they can accept the benign nature of the convulsions. Children who suffer from epilepsy are not abnormal in any other way.
Epilepsy denotes electrical malfunctioning within the brain due to damage of brain cells or some inherited abnormality. There are many causes of epilepsy. Digestive disturbances, intestinal toxaemia and a strained nervous condition are very often the main cause of petit mal. Grand mal usually results from hereditary influences, serious shock or injury to the brain or nervous system. Meningitis, typhoid and other disease accompanied with prolonged high temperature can also lead to grand mal epilepsy. Epilepsy attack may be caused by several other factors. It may result from allergic reaction to certain food substances, especially some particular form of protein which is the main constitutent of meat.
The most important aspect of treatment of epilepsy is the diet. To begin with, the child should be placed on an exclusive fruit diet for a few days. During this period, he should take fresh juicy fruits such as oranges, apples, grapes, grapefruit, peaches,pears, pineappleand melon. Thereafter, he may gradually adopt a well- balanced diet, according to his age. The emphasis should be on whole grain cereals, raw or lightly-cooked vegetables, and fresh fruits. The diet should include a moderate form of milk, preferably goat’s milk and milk products such as curd,butter and homemade cottage cheese.
The diet should eliminate completely all animal proteins, except milk, as they not only lack in magnesium but also rob the body of its own magnesium storage as well as of vitamin B6. Both these substances are needed in large amounts by the epileptics. Best food sources of magnesium are raw nuts, seeds, soyabeans, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, and beet roots. The patient should avoid all reined foods, fried and greasy foods, sugar and products made with it, strong tea, coffee, condiments and pickles. He should avoid over-eating and take frequent small meals, rather than a few large ones. He should not eat large meals before gong to bed. Certain home remedies have been found beneficial in the treatment of epilepsy. The most important of these is the use of grape juice. The child should take about 250 ml. of the juice of fresh grapes thrice a day for three months. It will provide immense relief and help in the cure of the disease. Certain vegetable juices , especially carrot juice in combination with juices of beats and cucumber have also been found valuable in epilepsy. Formula proportions considered helpful in this combination are 150 ml. of carrot juice and 50 ml.each of beet and cucumber juices to prepare 250 ml. of combined juices.
Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is considered useful in epilepsy. This vitamin is involved in critical functions of the nervous system. The valuable vegetable sources of this vitamin are milk, brewer’s yeast, cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, carrots and peanuts.
The herb brahmi booti, botanically known as Herpesties monniera has been found valuable in epilepsy. Half a teaspoon of the juice of this plant, sweetened with equal quantity of honey, should be given to the patient thrice daily. The herb Indian spikenart (jatamansi) is also considered useful in epilepsy. It soothes the nervous system and induces tranquility of the mind. It should be given in very small doses of half a gram each.
The herb valerian (jalakan) has acquired great reputation in recent years as a cure for epilepsy. It has been used traditionally in functional disturbances of nervous system. The drug exercises depressant action on the central nervous system. An infusion, prepared by infusing 15 grms of the herb in 250 ml. of boiling water, should be taken in small quantities thrice daily.
Mud packs applied to the abdomen twice daily help remove toaxamic conditions of the intestines and thereby hasten improvement of epileptic conditions. The application of alternate hot and cold compresses to the base of the brain , that is at the back of the head will be beneficial. The procedure is to dip the feet in a bucket of hot water and apply first a hot towel and then a cold one to the base of the brain. The alternate hot and cold towels should be kept for two or three minutes four times. The process should be repeated twice every day.
If the sufferer from epilepsy has taken strong drugs for many years, he should not leave off entirely all at once. The dosage may be cut down to half to begin with and then gradually reduced further until it can be left off completely.
The epileptic child should be encouraged to lead as normal a life as possible but some activities are unacceptably risky like swimming and driving vehicle and should be avoided. Thus for instance, bicycle riding on the main road may be fatal if the child has a convulsion. Similarly, unsupervised swimming should be prohibited. The child should be allowed to undertake certain activities, which involve considerable risk, only in the presence of a responsible adult.