Patient Guide


15 Aug 2015


What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a group of related disorders in the brain's electrical systems that are characterized by a tendency to cause recurrent seizures. Seizures cause changes in movement, behavior, sensation, or awareness, including loss of consciousness or convulsions, which last from a few seconds to a few minutes in most individuals. Seizures may occur in children and adults.

Epilepsy is not a form of mental illness or intellectual dysfunction.

Epilepsy Symptoms:

Most individuals equate epilepsy with convulsions, but epileptic seizures can produce many different symptoms; two large groups of seizures are termed partial and generalized. Symptoms may range from whole body convulsions to simply staring into space to barely noticeable muscle twitching. Each type of seizure has a distinct set of symptoms; the following slides will present some of these types of seizures and their symptoms.

Causes of Epilepsy:

The specific cause for epilepsy is unknown for about half of all epileptic patients according to the Epilepsy Foundation. However, there are a number of conditions that can result in epilepsy

birth defects
deprivation of oxygen to the brain
severe head injuries

Epilepsy in Children:

Some children who develop epilepsy may outgrow the condition in a few years. However, many children prevent seizures by taking regular medication. Approximately 70 to 80% of children can have their condition controlled completely. If your child has seizures that still occur sporadically with medication, discuss their situation with the school staff so your child can safely continue to do most classroom activities.

Diagnosis: EEG

The diagnosis of epilepsy begins with a medical history and physical exam along with a detailed history that describes individual's seizures. In addition, other tests such as an EEG (electroencephalogram) that records the brain's electrical activity, or a CT or MRI of the brain, and blood tests may also be done.

Diagnosis: Brain Scan

Images from the CT or MRI scans are useful because they help the physician identify certain causes of seizures such as tumors or blood clots or they may suggest other causes responsible for the seizures. These tests are considered essential by most physicians to help plan how to treat the individual patient.

Treatment: Medication

Anti-seizure medications are the most common treatment used to reduce or prevent seizure activity. Your physician will likely prescribe one or more medications to treat the specific type of seizure you have. Your physician may need to adjust the doses and/or the type of medication to find the treatment that is best for you. About 70% of patients with epilepsy become seizure-free if they take their medicine regularly. For some patients, medication may need to be life-long; patients should not stop taking the medication without first consulting their physician.

Treatment: VNS

VNS or vagus nerve stimulation is a treatment technique designed to prevent seizures by sending regular, mild pulses of electricity to the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve. VNS is done by surgically implanting a small device like a pacemaker that stimulates the vagus nerve to send signals to the brain. These signals can reduce or eliminate seizure activity and are usually placed in individuals that respond poorly to seizure medication.