Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States, impacting some three million adults and 470,000 children.
The disorder is characterized by abnormal brain activity that leads to seizures, loss of awareness, and/or periods of unusual behavior and sensations.
Epilepsy is a non-discriminatory affliction. It impacts men and women of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Though, there are risk factors that make some people more susceptible.
The expert neurologists at Memphis Neurology in Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi use a holistic approach when treating epilepsy. We offer a wide variety of treatment services to keep you healthy.
Our team believes an informed patient is a successful patient, so we've put together this brief guide to help you navigate through an epilepsy diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal brain activity, seizures can impact any system or process your brain directs.
Doctors classify seizure types based on the brain region in which the abnormal activity takes place. Focal seizures arise in only one area of the brain. Generalized seizures arise in all areas.
Seizure types can range from “absence seizures” (formerly known as petit mal), where the person stares off into space, to tonic-clonic seizures (also known as grand mal), which trigger an abrupt loss of consciousness, and stiffening and shaking of the entire body. Each of these primary types contains several different subtypes.
What symptoms appear depends on the type of seizure. Symptoms can include:
- Staring blankly into space
- Rapid blinking and confusion
- Loss of consciousness or lack of awareness
- Muscle spasms or jerking movements
- Unusual sensations, such as taste and smell
- Inability to respond to questions for a brief period of time
Most people with epilepsy have the same seizure type each time, so their symptoms tend to be quite similar from one episode to the next. Each episode can last up to several minutes.
What are the causes and risks of epilepsy?
In about half the people who suffer from epilepsy, there is no identifiable cause. In the rest, some possibilities include genetic factors, head injuries/brain trauma, infectious diseases, and developmental disorders.
There are, however, some risk factors for the disorder, which include:
- Age: Though epilepsy can occur at any age, the onset is most common in children and older adults.
- Family history: A family history of epilepsy increases your risk, hinting at some underlying genetic factors.
- Head injuries: Head and brain trauma can increase your risk for developing epilepsy by interfering with normal brain function in damaged areas.
- Stroke and other vascular diseases: These conditions can lead to brain damage, which in turn triggers epilepsy.
- Dementia: Increases the risk for older adults.
- Brain infections: Infections that cause inflammation in your brain or spinal cord — such as meningitis — may increase your risk.
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
At Memphis Neurology, the diagnosis begins with taking a complete medical history and conducting a neurological exam. The exam may include tests such as:
- Blood tests (for infectious diseases, liver and kidney function, and blood glucose levels)
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)(to observe changes in brain waves)
- Neuropsychological tests
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Epilepsy Monitoring Unit
These tests will help determine the type of seizure you experience, in addition to where in your brain it originates. To reach an epilepsy diagnosis, the doctor must also find evidence of at least two unprovoked seizures. From all this information, he can create a personalized treatment plan.
How is epilepsy treated?
There are several treatment options used to help reduce or eliminate seizures. These include:
- Anti-epileptic (anticonvulsant) medications: These medications reduce the number of seizures you have, or, in some people, eliminate them entirely.
- Ketogenic diet: Over half the people who don’t respond to medication show improvement with this high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.
- Deep-brain stimulation (DBS): A generator implanted in your chest sends signals to electrodes implanted in the affected area of your brain, reducing the abnormal activity.
- Brain surgery: The brain area responsible for the seizures can be removed or altered.
At Memphis Neurology, we use vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for our patients who can’t tolerate the medications or their side effects.
We implant a stimulating device just beneath the skin in your chest, and it sends electrical impulses to your vagus nerve, which regulates many different aspects of human physiology, from heart rate and blood pressure to digestion. This procedure can reduce the number of seizures by 20-40%.
Are you having seizures and don’t know where to turn? Memphis Neurology can help with everything from diagnosis to treatment. Give us a call at either one of our locations or schedule an appointment online.