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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which nerve cells in the brain send abnormal signals to other nerve cells and muscles throughout the body. These signals can cause seizures, unusual sensations or different behaviors.
Epilepsy can affect people of all ages; however, the first seizure or manifestation occurs most often in childhood or in older adulthood.
Epilepsy Services at Valley
Valley’s Neurophysiology Center offers a full scope of epilepsy services for both adults and children.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) – An EEG is a painless, safe procedure, and one of the main diagnostic tests for epilepsy. It can also play a role in diagnosing other brain disorders. An EEG uses small, flat metal discs (electrodes) attached to the scalp to pick up electrical activity of nerve cells in the brain. The readings are translated into a series of wavy lines that show up on a monitor and can be printed out on paper. Changes of electrical activity that may signal a seizure produce abnormal patterns that a trained neurologist can interpret. These patterns can tell your doctor a lot about your seizures, including the part of the brain where your seizures start, and may even suggest which treatment might be best for you.
Other imaging tests – In addition to brain wave tests, your neurologist may order other non-invasive imaging tests to take detailed anatomic and functional images of the brain:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) scans
- PET (positron emission tomography) scans
Your neurologist may also take blood tests to rule out other disorders that may be causing your seizures.
Inpatient Epilepsy Monitoring Units
If your doctor suspects epilepsy, a simple EEG may not provide the answers necessary to diagnose and treat the condition. Only a prolonged EEG, combined with visual monitoring over a period of days, will pinpoint the causes and potential treatments for your condition.
Valley offers two inpatient epilepsy monitoring units, both of which are overseen by board-certified epileptologists:
Adult Epilepsy Monitoring Unit
This unit offers a comfortable, stress-free environment for observation of seizure activity, with 24-hour observation provided by neurologists, nurses and trained technicians who specialize in caring for patients with neurologic conditions.
Patients generally spend two to five days in a private room, where they’re monitored with around-the-clock electroencephalogram (EEG) readings, which measure brain waves, and a video feed, which helps the medical staff evaluate their activity. Patients may also undergo blood testing and imaging studies.
Patients who are already hospitalized in one of our acute care units can be evaluated by the epilepsy team via advanced remote monitoring equipment.
Patients may move about the unit as they wish. They may wear their own clothes and pajamas, eat food brought from home, and bring books, craftwork, puzzles, laptop computers and any other items that will help them be more comfortable.
Pediatric Epilepsy Monitoring Unit
In this specially designed pediatric unit, children from birth to age 18 can be professionally observed and evaluated in a comfortable, child-friendly environment. Testing consists of around-the-clock EEG monitoring, visual observation through the use of a video camera, and occasional blood tests and brain scans. All testing is non-invasive and mostly painless.
During their stay, children have access to free television, video games and plenty of toys, books and puzzles. They may wear their own clothes and pajamas, bring blankets or toys from home, move around freely, and even eat food brought from home. For optimum peace of mind, a parent is welcome to remain for the entire stay.
If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor will suggest treatment options that can help minimize the onset or severity of seizures, and in some cases eliminate them altogether. Over the years, new pharmaceuticals and a better understanding of the causes and variations of epilepsy have led to more effective epilepsy management.
The most common treatments for epilepsy include:
Medication – Doctors usually start by treating epilepsy with medication, generally taken by mouth. Your doctor's choice of which drug to prescribe will depend on what kind of seizures you’re having. Most people with epilepsy can become seizure-free by using a single anti-epileptic drug; others can decrease the frequency and intensity of their seizures. More than half the children with medication-controlled epilepsy can eventually stop medications and live a seizure-free life. Many adults also can discontinue medication after two or more years without seizures.
Vagus nerve stimulation – In this treatment, short bursts of electrical energy are directed into the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck. The energy comes from a battery, about the size of a silver dollar, which is surgically implanted under the skin, usually on the chest. The implantation is performed by a Valley surgeon. Our epileptologists adjust the stimulation parameters during outpatient follow-up visits.
Surgical intervention – When medicines fail to prevent seizures, surgical removal of seizure-producing areas of the brain may be considered. Because of new surgical techniques and new ways of identifying areas to be removed, more of these operations are being done now than ever before, and with greater success.
A ketogenic diet – This diet, which is very high in fats and low in carbohydrates, makes the body burn fat for energy instead of glucose. When carefully monitored by a medical team, the diet can significantly help children with epilepsy and may even prevent seizures completely.