The tendency to have recurrent, unprovoked seizures is called epilepsy. Seizures are caused by sudden bursts of excessive and uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can cause partial or complete loss of consciousness, confusion, nonsensical speech, bizarre behavior, involuntary muscle jerks or movements, unusual sensations, or loss of ability to speak. One in ten people will have a seizure during his or her life, and epilepsy affects more than 3 million Americans. It has a considerable impact on health, employment and quality of life.
How is Epilepsy Diagnosed?
When you visit our team of neurologists, in addition to a standard neurological exam, they will likely complete tests such as an MRI or an EEG (electroencephalogram). These tests help determine the cause of seizures and the risk of recurrence. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is especially important to help treat patients with epilepsy. It records the brain's electrical activity and can provide support for the diagnosis and type of epilepsy. EEGs also can help locate the region of the brain where a seizure starts.
After reviewing your test results, your neurologist will discuss treatment or seizure prevention options, such as seizure medications. We strive to provide our patients with the best seizure control possible, and we believe that patients should be well-informed about their diagnosis and actively participate in their treatment decisions.
What Causes Epilepsy?
Almost two-thirds of people with epilepsy do not have a specific underlying cause. They are either labeled as cryptogenic, which means they don’t have any known cause, or as idiopathic, which means that there is no neurological disorder but the symptoms are consistent with some epileptic syndromes. Several other factors can cause epilepsy:
- Oxygen deprivation during childbirth
- Brain infections like meningitis, encephalitis and cysticercosis
- Traumatic brain or head injuries
- Neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease
- Brain tumors
- Genetic disorders
Epilepsy Treatment Options
Medication - Medications are the most common form of treatment. For most people, the drugs work and the seizures are stopped. For other people they may help partially or not at all. These people usually seek out other seizure-preventing treatments.
Surgery - Surgery to remove the abnormal brain tissue causing the seizures is an option for patients with medically refractory epilepsy, also known as epilepsy that isn't being effectively treated by medications. This is only done after a very thorough evaluation. Not everybody qualifies for this surgery, and those patients may benefit from other treatments.
Neurostimulation - Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS) and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) use a device to send electrical impulses to the brain and can decrease seizure frequency in many patients who did not benefit from medications, with relatively low risk of side effects. With an assessment, you can find out if these devices can be appropriate for you.
Many other innovative epilepsy therapies are being explored and carry great promise for patients and their care givers.