There have been remarkable advancements in treating the brain and dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, migraine, stroke, epilepsy and other frequently diagnosed neurological disorders. Experts discussed the causes and treatments available at a seminar on common brain disorders on March 18 at Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) to commemorate Brain Awareness Week being held worldwide.
Nearly 1.7 million people in Pakistan are epileptics. Dr Mughis Sheerani, Consultant Neurologist, AKUH pointed out that because the general public does not understand that suffers’ seizures and jerky movements are caused by physical reactions to sudden and brief electrical discharges in the brain, patients are often labelled as ‘possessed’ or ‘retarded’. “Unfortunately, between 60 to 90 per cent of epilepsy cases in developing countries do not get appropriate treatment even though it can be treated at an affordable cost,” said Dr Sheerani. He shared that almost three-quarters of all epileptics can manage their condition with medication, while some cases may require longer-term treatment and a small number, surgery.
Speaking about other brain conditions, Dr Ayeesha Kamal, Consultant Neurologist, AKUH discussed stroke as a chronic disease that is prevalent in Pakistan. During a stroke a person may suddenly lose control of their body, their ability to speak, or even see, due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people worldwide suffer from stroke each year, 5 million people are left permanently disabled and up to one-third can die. Smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes can all increase the risk of a stroke while exercise and a better, healthier diet can reduce it.
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of abnormal memory decline that is increasingly being seen in developing countries, according to Dr Saad Shafqat, Consultant Neurologist, AKUH. Treatment for the disorder is available but its benefits are not dramatic, making the situation stressful for families.
Dr Shafqat also pointed out that not all memory loss is a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Memory function tends to decline with age, but it may not interfere with independent individual and social functioning. “When memory loss begins to interfere with one’s ability to carry out the routine activities of daily life – such as dressing, eating, going to the toilet and handling personal affairs – it reflects a neurological illness,” said Dr Shafqat. In some cases, memory loss may also be caused by clinical depression. Dr Shafqat pointed out that consulting a neurologist and a psychiatrist, and undergoing therapy can help manage depression better.
Dr Aziz Sonawala, Consultant Neurologist, AKUH talked about tension headaches suffered by nearly 30 to 50 per cent of the population globally. Generally the pain is not severe enough to affect a patient’s ability to function. Migraine headaches, however, are associated with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Most headaches, serious or non-serious, can impact a person’s quality of life but can be managed by proper care and prompt treatment.
Stressing the importance of sleep, Dr Bhojo Khealani, Consultant Neurologist, AKUH, said that a normal adult requires approximately eight hours of sleep to function efficiently and foster growth and memory. Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep, and sleep apnoea, when breathing stops during sleep, are the most common sleep disorders. Insomnia may be treated by avoiding long daytime naps, caffeinated drinks, smoking or eating heavy meals before bedtime. “Maintaining a regular sleep cycle in a comfortable environment, waking up and sleeping at about the same time every day also helps improve the sleep cycle,” said Dr Khealani. He also pointed out that snoring, fatigue, morning headaches and daytime sleepiness are common symptoms of sleep apnoea. This condition can be controlled easily by using breathing devices. Losing weight or sleeping on one side is also helpful. In some cases, oral appliances and surgical intervention may be useful alternatives to treat sleep apnoea.
While introducing the brain and its functions, Dr Sarwar Jamil Siddiqui, Consultant Neurologist, AKUH said that over the last 20 years, there has been remarkable scientific advancement in our understanding of how our brain works, especially with the invention of new brain scanning technologies, including CTs and MRIs. “Despite these inventions, we probably still understand only a tiny fraction of human brain function,” said Dr Siddiqui.