Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder. It’s characterized by unprovoked and recurrent seizures, which are periods of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Anybody can develop epilepsy, but it’s most commonly found in young children and older adults, with slightly more males affected. About three million adults in the US, and about 470,000 children, suffer from the condition.
Epilepsy is treatable, and most people can lead normal lives if they learn how to manage their seizures. In some cases, children with epilepsy are able to outgrow it.
Memphis Neurology has locations in Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi. There, our expert team of neurologists offers a wide range of epilepsy monitoring and treatment services, all delivered with a holistic approach. If you’ve already been diagnosed with epilepsy, or if you think you may have it, here’s what you need to know.
Epilepsy is divided into two major categories, depending on where the abnormal activity in the brain begins.
1. Focal seizures
Also known as partial seizures, focal seizures come from activity within a single brain area. They can occur with or without a loss of consciousness or impaired awareness, and the specific symptoms vary depending on which type you have. As the symptoms can easily be confused with those from other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy, and various mental illnesses, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your neurologist.
2. Generalized seizures
Generalized seizures appear to affect all brain areas and can be subdivided into six different types:
- Absence seizures previously called petit mal seizures
- Tonic seizures
- Atonic seizures, or “drop” seizures
- Clonic seizures, which affect the neck, face, and arms
- Myoclonic seizures
- Tonic-clonic seizures previously called grand mal seizures
Seek immediate medical help for the epileptic if:
- The seizure lasts longer than five minutes
- A second seizure immediately follows the first
- Breathing or consciousness don’t return once the seizure stops
- They have a high fever or heat exhaustion
- They have diabetes
- They become injured during the seizure
Always seek medical advice the first time you experience any type of seizure.
About 50% of epileptics have no identifiable cause for their condition. For the other 50%, causes may include:
- Heredity: some types run in families; some genes make you more sensitive to environmental triggers
- Head trauma
- Brain conditions: primarily tumors and strokes; the latter is the leading cause in adults over 35
- Infectious diseases: such as viral encephalitis, meningitis, and AIDS
- Prenatal injury: includes infection, poor nutrition, or oxygen deficiency
- Developmental disorders: including neurofibromatosis and autism
Managing your epilepsy
Here at Memphis Neurology, we start with a conservative approach to treatment, usually by prescribing an anti-epileptic or anti-seizure medication. At least half of newly diagnosed epilepsy patients become seizure-free with their first medication; others may need to try multiple medications or take a combination of drugs. Most will see a decrease in the frequency and intensity of their seizures as a result of medication.
To achieve the best results:
- Always take medications exactly as prescribed
- Talk to your doctor before switching to a generic version of your medication
- Advise your doctor of other prescription and OTC medications, as well as herbal remedies
- Notify your doctor immediately if you notice unusual changes in your mood or behaviors
- Tell your doctor if you have migraines; some anti-epileptic medications prevent migraines as well as treat epilepsy
If medications aren’t effective, we have a number of alternative therapies. The first is vagus nerve stimulation. We implant a small electrical device under the skin of your chest. It sends bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve in your neck to your brain, often reducing seizure frequency by 20-40%.
A second option is adopting a ketogenic diet, one that's high in fats and low in carbohydrates. Your body breaks down fats in place of carbohydrates for energy. There are side effects, so don’t do this without your doctor’s supervision.
A third option is deep brain stimulation (DBS). Surgeons implant electrodes into the thalamus region of the brain and those electrodes are connected to a device implanted in your chest or your skull that sends out electrical pulses. These pulses work much like those used in vagus nerve stimulation.
Other therapies, including additional stimulators and laser ablation, are currently being investigated.
If you have epilepsy, or if you need a diagnosis, Memphis Neurology is the place you want to be. We have options available that will help you effectively manage your condition. To schedule a consultation with our team, give us a call at either of our locations or book your appointment online today.