In 2010, an estimated 140,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with epilepsy, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patients with epilepsy have recurrent seizures, which are changes in behavior and functioning due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. With epilepsy, these electrical abnormalities result from permanent changes to the tissue in the brain.
For example, a patient with a brain infection, such as meningitis or encephalitis, may develop epilepsy. Some people have epilepsy at birth, which may result from a congenital brain defect, an injury to the brain during birth, or a metabolic disorder, such as phenylketonuria.
The major epilepsy treatments are medication and surgery. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke stated that about 80 percent of epilepsy patients can control their seizures with these treatment options. The medication for epilepsy called anticonvulsants can help a patient become seizure-free, or decrease how frequent and how strong their seizures are.
MayoClinic.com noted that many adults with epilepsy can stop using these medications after two or more years without having seizures. Options include valproic acid, carbamazepine, phenytoin, topiramate and gabapentin. Anticonvulsants can cause side effects such as dizziness, loss of coordination, fatigue and weight gain.
In some epilepsy cases, patients may need to have surgery. For example, if a patient does not respond to medication, her doctor may recommend surgery. MayoClinic.com pointed out that this epilepsy treatment is done mostly with patients who have localized areas of the abnormal electrical activity that are small and do not interfere with significant functions, such as language.
In these cases, the surgeon will remove that area of the brain. If that section of the brain cannot be removed, the surgeon will make a series of incisions on the brain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke added surgery may be done to treat the underlying cause of the epilepsy, such as a brain tumor.
For some patients, they may benefit from other therapies. For example, a doctor may recommend vagus nerve stimulation, in which a device is implanted under the skin of the chest and sends electrical signals through wires that are wrapped around the vagus nerve. MayoClinic.com stated that this treatment reduces seizures in 20 to 40 percent of patients and controls them in 5 percent of patients.
Side effects are possible, including throat pain, muscle pain and shortness of breath. Another option is the ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted that studies have found some children on this diet have fewer seizures. But before starting any diets to treat epilepsy, patients should talk to their doctors.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epilepsy. Web. 7 September 2011
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research. Web. 7 September 2011
MayoClinic.com. Epilepsy: Treatment and Drugs. Web. 7 September 2011
University of Maryland Medical Center. Epilepsy – Medications. Web. 7 September 2011
Reviewed September 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith