Have you ever been to a concert? All the flashing lights and loud music feels like home to some. A place of security and unity. For others, it’s a health hazard, which doesn’t only sound weird but also kind of made-up. What’s the worst that can happen at a concert? Post-concert headache? Dehydration? An epileptic seizure? Yes, you heard that right. If you know someone with epilepsy, you probably how dangerous sudden flashing lights and colors can be for them.
So, what exactly is epilepsy? It’s a chronic disorder that causes unprovoked and recurrent seizures. Before we get into what epilepsy is, we need to understand what seizure is as they’re both interconnected. A seizure is an uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It causes changes in your movements, behavior and even feelings. When these seizures keep occurring then there’s a chance you have epilepsy.
Any neurological disorder is difficult to diagnose and track since the brain has a very complex structure. And it’s the same case with epilepsy. There are many underlying causes for epilepsy which are hard to identify at times. In fact, only 4 out of 10 people with epilepsy know the cause of their disorder.
The most obvious cause is damage or injury to the brain. Head trauma, stroke, neurodegenerative diseases or even brain tumors could result in epilepsy. The occurrence of this disorder could take years or months after the injury. Another cause is a structural abnormality that happens during brain development. These abnormalities can be subtle or prominent enough to be seen by MRI’s. If the cause of epilepsy is structural abnormalities then there’s a chance the disorder could begin early in life.
Other times, epilepsy could be inherited. There’s also a chance that other genetic factors could cause epilepsy at random.
Although it takes time to determine the cause of epilepsy, when a diagnosis is found, there are several ways to treat it. Antiepileptic drugs can eliminate seizures greatly but it’s not a cure for epilepsy. Another treatment is a Vagus nerve stimulator. This device is placed underneath the skin of the chest and electrically stimulates a nerve that’s located on your neck to prevent seizures.
There are more progressive or alternative methods to make epilepsy more manageable. One of them is a ketogenic diet. More than half of patients who don’t respond to medication use this diet. A ketogenic diet is low in carbohydrates and higher in fats.
The more shocking and wondrous method of treatment is surgery. What’s so wondrous about surgery though? There’s something unique about brain surgery for epilepsy. In some cases, the patient remains awake during the surgery and even talks to the surgeon! Sounds crazy, right? This helps doctors avoid removing those parts of the brain that control vision, hearing, speech or movement.
When this isn’t possible and the part of the brain is too important or big to remove, the surgeon cuts the nerve pathway to avoid seizures.
Living with epilepsy can be very difficult. The unexpected occurrence of seizures can lead to a loss of independence in a person’s life. The fact that a diagnosis can be difficult too doesn’t help either. But with modern medicine and early treatment, epilepsy can be made much more manageable. In fact, between 60 to 70 percent of people with epilepsy respond to the first medication they use and about 50 percent don’t need medication after two to five years without a seizure. And almost half of the adults who try a modified Atkins diet have lesser seizures.
Not only does epilepsy greatly change a person’s life, but it also changes them and their behavior. That’s why funding research centers that look into epilepsy because if we can provide a better life to someone, why shouldn’t we?
Until Next Time,
Team Doctor ASKY!