What is The History of Epilepsy?


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Epilepsy is a serious disease that currently afflicts millions of people around the world. But did you know that epilepsy has already existed and puzzled our ancestors as far back as the start of human existence?

In fact early medical writings as early as 3000 years ago, show that no disease has sparked so much interest and controversy among the early people than epilepsy. However, our ancestors believed that epilepsy was an act of supernatural beings. The Babylonians, for one, believed that seizures were caused by demons attacking the person.

The ancient Greeks on the other hand, believed that one will be afflicted with epilepsy by offending Selene, the goddess of the moon and in order to cure the disease, one has to eat mistletoe that has been picked without the aid of a blade during the time the moon is smallest in the sky.

The ancient Romans did not only believe that the disease came from demons but that it was contagious as well. To get rid of the disease, one was required to spit to expel the demons.

400 B.C.: The Greek doctor and Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, wrote the very first document on epilepsy, “On the Sacred Disease.” Contrary to the belief that epilepsy was an act of the demons, Hippocrates proved that epilepsy is a brain disease. He explained that epilepsy was caused by surplus phlegm. His prescription then was a diet that balances the hot and cold and to sleep in the temple overnight with the hopes that the god Asclepius would appear in a dream and cure the afflicted. 70 A.D.: The Bible spoke of a man afflicted with epilepsy in Mark (verses 9:14-29). It spoke of a man, whom a spirit possessed and displayed typical symptoms of epilepsy such as seizures, gnashing of teeth, rigidness and foaming at the mouth. 1494: Almost hundreds of thousands of women died when two friars wrote the Malleus Maleficarum- a handbook on witch-hunting. The book identified seizures with witchcraft.

1904: William Spratling, a neurologist, coined the term “epileptologist” to describe someone specializing in epilepsy. Spratling is the first epileptologist in North America.

1912: Two teams of chemists created Luminal, a phenobarbital.

1859-1906: This is the period of the start of the modern medical age of epilepsy. In a study by English neurologists Russel Reynolds, John Hughlings and Sir William Richard Growers, seizures were defined as the excessive, episodic discharge of nerve tissue on the muscles. According to the study, seizures can cause behavioral and sensational changes.

1920: The very first medication for epilepsy, the ketogenic diet, was devised. The ketogenic diet was low in protein, rich in fat and with minimum quantity of carbohydrate to decrease the incidence of seizures by simulating the metabolic effects experienced when fasting.

1929: Hans Berger, a famous German psychiatrist, said that electric currents that the brain generates could be recorded graphically on a piece of paper, even without slicing open the skull. This was called electroencephalogram (EEG).

1929- 1963: Different drug treatments for epilepsy such as phenytoin (PHT), carbamazepine (CBZ), ethusuximide (ESM) and sodium valproate (VPA) were discovered. Since then, numerous drugs have been discovered and received the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration.

1968: The Epilepsy Foundation of America was established, now called the Epilepsy Foundation.

1970: Epilepsy centers were established in different states through the efforts of the Veterans Administration. As a result, a new breed of doctors began to focus on the study and treatment of epilepsy.

1990: Some states in the United States had laws prohibiting people with epilepsy to get married and bear children, even in the twentieth century. Other states conducted sterilization to prevent epileptics from passing on the disease to future generations. To put an end to this discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed by the Congress. Developments in neuroscience have already led to positive results as to finding cures for epilepsy. Thanks to modern science, those living with epilepsy are slowly regaining their lives.

They are now able to live and go through their day-to-day activities like normal people do. And with the dedication of neurologists in studying epilepsy, an effective cure for epilepsy is not too far from materializing.

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