Epilepsy and seizure treatment from expert specialists
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition associated with recurrent seizures, know you’re not alone. The Epilepsy Foundation reports that one in 26 people develop epilepsy at some point in their life. Also, know that epilepsy is commonly treatable, with medications providing relief to nearly 70% of patients. Other treatment options are available when medicines don’t work. The goal of treatment is no seizures and no side effects.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, our expert neurologists, neurosurgeons, nurses and other specialists work together to make sure each patient and their family gets the precise support needed every step of the way. We use the latest research, diagnostic technologies and treatments to help you return to a fuller, more active life. Together, we’re working to provide greater hope for people with epilepsy.
What is a seizure? What is epilepsy?
Seizure is a neurological situation caused by abnormal brain activity. There are many different manifestations of seizures. The symptoms depend on where in the brain the abnormal activity occurs. Some seizures may manifest as unusual behavior, loss of awareness, loss of sensation and involuntary movement of arms and legs.
Epilepsy syndrome is characterized by seizure types, other medical conditions and other brain abnormalities. The hallmark of epilepsy is recurrent, unprovoked seizures.
Types of seizures and epilepsy
Generalized tonic-clonic seizures (formerly called “grand mal” seizures or convulsive seizures)
These seizures cause you to lose consciousness and collapse to the ground. They also cause your body, arms and legs to stiffen and jerk involuntarily.
Absence seizures (formerly called “petit mal” seizures)
These seizures are typically seen in school age children. They may appear in the form of a blank stare with the person being unaware of their surroundings. Most absence seizures are brief, lasting for five seconds or less. But they may occur in close succession of one another, making it difficult for a child to take in new information.
Formerly called “partial seizures,” this type of epilepsy is marked by seizures that develop in a specific area on one side of the brain.
The kind of symptoms depends on where in the brain the abnormal activity is occurring. If the activity is in the part of the brain that controls emotion, you may have unusual emotions or feelings. If the activity is in the part of the brain that controls motor function, symptoms may include involuntary jerking or twitching of the face, arm or leg.
All focal seizures, if not controlled, can become generalized seizures.
Seizure symptoms are not always understood by you or your loved ones. If you experience recurring self-limiting spells, please see a seizure specialist.
When to call 911 for a seizure
The symptoms of a seizure tend to come on suddenly and can be a shock if it’s the first time. Please call 911 if you or someone you care for experiences any of the following:
- First time generalized tonic-clonic seizure
- A seizure lasts five minutes or more
- A second seizure immediately follows
- Normal breathing or consciousness doesn’t return after the seizure is over
- You have a seizure and you’re pregnant, diabetic, have a high fever or heat exhaustion
- You sustain an injury during the seizure
Sometimes, more subtle epilepsy symptoms appear. If you experience any of these common symptoms, please visit a doctor:
- A staring spell
- Jerking or twitching of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Temporary confusion
- Unexplained fear, anxiety or déjà vu
Diagnosing epilepsy starts with a detailed medical history and a physical exam where we’ll talk with you about your symptoms and the events surrounding your seizures. It may be a good idea to bring a family member or friend who may have observed symptoms and can share any additional information about your medical history. To confirm the diagnosis, we might perform one of these common tests:
Basic screening blood test
We may do blood tests that look at the health of your blood cells as well as tests that look at your metabolic functions. We’ll use the results to get a fuller picture of your overall health.
During this passive, painless test, you sit back and relax (you may even fall asleep) as brain waves are recorded by placing small sensors on your head with a cap or adhesive. People with epilepsy often have irregular brain waves even when they aren’t experiencing a seizure.
Depending on your symptoms, our doctors might suggest an induced seizure during an EEG so your brainwaves can be monitored during the episode. They’ll monitor you during the seizure to make sure you’re safe during the procedure. This can help doctors determine what type of seizures you have and diagnose your specific type of epilepsy.
Brain MRI scan
A brain MRI scan is an anatomical study that looks at the structure of the brain. Sometimes, seizures are caused by lesions, cysts or tumors. These abnormalities will appear during a brain MRI scan and can be used to pinpoint the cause of your seizures and other symptoms.
Treatment for epilepsy
The goal of treatment: No seizures and no side effects.
We use the latest research, treatment options and technologies to manage epilepsy symptoms. Our team of neurologists, neurosurgeons, nurses and other specialists works with you to make sure your treatment plan fits your needs, goals and lifestyle.
The most common way to treat epilepsy is to use anti-seizure (anti-epileptic) medication. Many people only need to take one type of medicine to get relief from seizures, but sometimes multiple medicines are used for the best possible results. We’ll work with you to find the right types of medications and doses to help stop your seizures and avoid medication side effects.
If medications don’t control your seizures, brain surgery may be an option. To decide if you may be a candidate for surgery, extensive testing will be completed. It’s critical to know where in the brain the seizures are coming from and to determine if surgery can successfully remove a lesion while ensuring continuing body functions.
Other treatments for seizures and epilepsy
Other treatment options can offer relief from epilepsy symptoms. Diets like the ketogenic diet and the modified Atkins diet have been shown to help calm the brain. Additionally, three medical devices are used to treat epilepsy: Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS), Deep Brain Stimulator (DBS) and Response Neurostimulator (RNS). We’ll talk to you about which treatment options might work best for you.