The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lifestyle shift link in neuro disorder rise

Sudhansu Sen (name changed) was a promising fast bowler for the Bengal under-19 side and knocking on the doors of Ranji Trophy selection. Till a premature spine strain put a halt to his career. The pain radiated down to his right leg and soon, he could not move it, leave alone accelerate in his bowling stride.

Now, he is under the care of specialised neurologists and neurosurgeons at the National Neurosciences Centre (NNC), housed within the Peerless Hospital & B.K. Roy Research Centre campus, off the EM Bypass, on the city's south-eastern fringes.

“Such a case would probably have been in the orthopaedic domain earlier, but now neurology and neurosurgery can handle these problems arising out of occupations or lifestyles better,” says Rahul De, consultant at the NNC.

Lumbar microdiscectomy, a simple, 45-minute procedure performed with a one-inch incision, would “relieve pressure on the affected nerve” and the patient can go home in the evening, De explains. The fast bowler can resume full-tilt training “within six weeks” of the surgery.

Even those otherwise healthy are falling prey to such lifestyle or occupational neurological problems. These conditions are either directly related to the occupation or arising from it. The affected come from as diverse fields as sports and information technology. Even those engaged in arduous manual labour often report with work-related neurological disorders.

“One often presumes that such health problems affect only those with sedentary lifestyles. But rapidly-changing lifestyle patterns and an altering socio-economic scenario have triggered a spurt in diseases that were less common before,” observes De. Using the computer, sitting in ill-designed chairs for hours, bad driving habits or even smoking, can trigger these problems, the doctors warn.

Nagging headaches and migraine — both stress-related conditions — are rarely seen as neurological problems. Most doctors would recommend an eye check-up instead, feel specialists at the NNC, who have been treating a host of patients grappling with lifestyle or occupation-related neurological ailments of late.

While spine-related back problems have become endemic for years, doctors feel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan has changed treatment options radically by pinpointing the problem area accurately.

“While occupational diseases may come with the package, lifestyle-linked neurological problems can be easily reduced with a little bit of awareness and restraint,” De feels. In Calcutta, he explains, there is no known high prevalence of any particular nerve disease. But a rise in vehicular traffic, coupled with less roadspace and poor traffic sense, has sharply increased the number of head and spine injuries.

“We now have more frequent cases of such injuries than we did even three years ago. Most of those affected are young people,” De says.

Doctors also identify smoking as a common villain. Excessive coughing, which smoking aggravates, can cause lumbar diseases. “These are now being treated at NNC through microsurgery, which can be used to free trapped nerves in the neck or lower back to ease slip discs, spinal and neck pain,” says a spokesperson for the centre.

Among other notable achievements of NNC is its work on epilepsy and the prevention of brain stroke.

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