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Hope for epilepsy

Treatments are available to control seizures

One in 26 people will develop epilepsy—a chronic disease characterized by unpredictable seizures—in their lifetime.

A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that can temporarily change how a person thinks or behaves. Patients can lose awareness or even become unconscious, twitch, babble, have vision changes, and/or difficulty breathing.

People with epilepsy struggle to keep up in school or at work, can be depressed and/or socially isolated, can suffer physical injury during a seizure, and can even die from a seizure. They may not be allowed to drive or play sports.

A person is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have one or more seizures not caused by some known and reversible medical condition such as diabetes. People can develop seizures after a brain injury, a stroke, or because of an infection or a brain tumor. Sometimes there is a family history of seizures, but often the cause is unknown.

If you suspect you’ve had a seizure, see your family doctor or a neurologist for an evaluation, which might include a detailed conversation about what happened during your seizure, medications you are taking, pre-existing illnesses or injuries, and a family history.

The doctor might order blood tests, an EEG (which looks for abnormalities that point to epilepsy or other neurological disorders), and possibly also a CAT scan or MRI (which look for abnormal areas of the brain).

Epilepsy treatment

There is no cure for epilepsy, but two-thirds of people with epilepsy are able to control their seizures with medications. The remaining one-third have what’s called “drug-resistant” or “refractory” epilepsy. In those cases, patients may be able to find relief through surgery or through devices that help override the brain’s abnormal electrical impulses.

More than 100,000 Americans are candidates for epilepsy surgery, but only about 2,000 people have the surgery every year. Patients don’t need to suffer from the physical and emotional effects of epilepsy. If someone has uncontrolled epilepsy for more than a year, they should seek an opinion at an accredited epilepsy center.

Dr. Frank Gilliam for the December 2016 issue

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