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epilepsy

faqs

Epilepsy is characterized by periodic seizures that result from sudden, intense bursts of electrical energy in the brain. Normally, we depend on millions of electrical charges to pass signals from the brain to nerve cells. During an epileptic seizure, unusually strong bursts of electrical charges disrupt other brain functions and may cause a person to temporarily lose consciousness, control of bodily movements or sensations.

Not all seizures are a sign of epilepsy. Single or occasional seizures can be caused by a severe head injury, extremely high fever or lack of oxygen. Epilepsy typically involves seizures that recur over time.

Epileptic seizures are categorized in two ways: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures, more commonly found in children and teens, are seizures that occur in all areas of the brain. Partial seizures are more common in adults and start in one portion of the brain.

Nearly one-third of new cases every year begin in childhood, especially in early childhood and coinciding with adolescence. Adults over age 65 also account for a high percentage of new diagnoses.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?
How is epilepsy treated?
How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?
Frequently Asked Questions


How is epilepsy diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing epilepsy usually involves a discussion with the physician where he or she will listen carefully to a description of symptoms and take a detailed medical history. Central to diagnosing epilepsy is determining if there is a precise area of the brain ("focal point") that produces the seizure. Finding the exact site of abnormal electrical activity is essential before surgical treatment can be considered.

Your doctor may recommend one of several sophisticated tests:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) - monitors brain wave activities during seizure and non-seizure periods.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - combines a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to create very detailed images of the brain and other organs or body structures. MRI is the most sensitive imaging technology for the brain, and therefore can be very helpful with fine-tuning a diagnosis of epilepsy. Advanced MRI systems also can show brain function.
  • Computed tomography (CT) - a non-invasive test that uses special X-ray equipment that captures many cross-sectional views ("slices") of an organ or area being examined. A computer then combines the many slices to create a two-dimensional view of the organ, tissue or blood vessel being examined. CT scans offer much more detail than traditional X-ray. At Christ Medical Center, patients benefit from state-of-the-art 64-slice CT scanning.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) - is a type of nuclear medicine imaging that uses a tiny amount of a radioactive material to help provide detailed images inside the body. Because the PET scan can show body functions including brain activity, it can be a helpful tool for evaluating seizures and other brain disorders.

How is epilepsy treated?

Treatment of epilepsy is determined by the type and severity of diagnosis. In some cases, such as specific types of pediatric epilepsy that children will outgrow, no treatment is given. The most common treatments for epilepsy are medications, surgery, and vagal nerve stimulation.

Medications can be particularly effective in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures, while surgery may be an option for adults or children with a clearly defined focal point responsible for triggering seizures.

Vagal nerve stimulation is a state-of-the-art treatment that has shown to be successful with patients whose epilepsy does not respond to medication. It helps prevent seizures by sending mild electrical pulses to the brain via the vagus nerve. A vagal nerve stimulator is sometimes called a "pacemaker for the brain" because it sends electric energy at regularly paced intervals. The VNS device is implanted under the skin on the chest wall, with a wire that runs from the device to the vagus nerve located in the neck.


How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?

Advocate Christ Medical Center provides comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for adults and children with all forms of epilepsy. We offer the most up-to-date diagnostic tests, including video-monitored electroencephalography (EEG), 24-hour EEG, MRI and a variety of other sleep studies to determine the best treatment for each patient. Our physicians are specially trained in surgical resection techniques and cutting-edge vagal nerve stimulation, and we participate in a number of investigative trials for new medications.

Our Epilepsy Clinic is staffed by nationally renowned epileptologists and affiliated with the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. Christ Medical Center offers education support services to epileptic patients and their families, as well as rehabilitative patient care.

We take a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment and our physician teams meet weekly to discuss patient cases and lay out the best treatment plan. Epileptologist and neurosurgeons work closely together and communicate openly with each other as well as with referring physicians. From adults to children, patients with all types of epilepsy and seizures all candidates for care at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

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