The doctor was blunt. “Your husband came through surgery fine, but he’s just suffered a seizure. We’re assuming it’s due to inserting the tube in his head. We’ll talk about options later.”
While most people associate the word seizures with epilepsy, adults and children experience them due to a variety of causes. After a doctor examines a patient who’s experienced a first seizure, the cause usually remains elusive. Seizures not associated with epilepsy can be linked to a blow on the head, surgery, infections like meningitis, colds, chickenpox, cerebral palsy, tumors and a host of other causes.
Patients who have experienced just one seizure seldom go on a control regimen. However, physicians often use the conventional treatments to control seizures associated with epilepsy in patients who haven’t been diagnosed with the condition but who experience repeat seizures.
Doctors know that when the brain’s electrical system fails to discharge electrical energy in a controlled fashion, the resulting surge of energy results in a seizure, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. The choice of an effective way to control seizures can vary greatly between adults and children. It always takes into consideration the patient’s exact circumstances and ability to tolerate certain medications.
The conventional methods for epilepsy control include:
The Mayo Clinic reports that doctors normally start with medication. Only if that approach doesn’t work do they recommend surgery or another alternative.
Many patients can become free of seizures with just one anti-epileptic drug, and others find the medication cuts the frequency and intensive of their seizures. More than half the children on medication for epilepsy are able to eventually stop using it and remain seizure-free. Many adults are able to discontinue their medication after they’re gone two years without a seizure.
One of patients’ chief complains is the arduous path many have to take to find the correct medicine and dosage for seizure control. Some individuals take a combination of two drugs.
Unfortunately, all anti-seizure medications come with some side effects. Most common are fatigue, dizziness, weight gain, a drop in bone density, skin rashes, loss of coordination and speech problems. Patients might also be at risk for depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, severe rashes and inflammation of organs such as the pancreas.
Half of all patients with epilepsy find themselves free of seizures with their first medication. However, when medications fail to control epileptic seizures, doctors turn to other methods.
Physicians usually recommend surgery only when seizures originate in a small and well-defined area of the brain that doesn’t impact vital processes such as speech, language or hearing. A surgeon removes the area of the brain responsible for seizures.
If the origin of the seizures is a section that can’t be removed, the surgeon might opt instead to make a series of cuts in the brain to prevent seizures from spreading to other parts. When either surgery is successful, many patients are able to take fewer medications and reduce the respective dosages.
This type of surgery is associated with a number of risks. Perhaps the most serious complication is a permanent alteration of the patient’s cognitive abilities.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
A surgeon implants a device known as a vagus nerve stimulator in the chest much as a pacemaker is inserted under the skin. Its wires connect to the vagus nerve in the patient’s neck. The patient triggers the battery-powered stimulator to send short bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve to the brain.
No one is sure exactly how this technique inhibits seizures, but it can cut them by 30 to 40 percent. Most individuals who use the stimulator still need to take anti-seizure medication, however.
Patients who use vagus nerve stimulation risk a number of side effects. The main ones are hoarseness, coughing, shortness of breath, throat pain, tingling and muscle pain.
This diet seeks to control epileptic seizures with food high in fats and low in carbohydrates. It has been effective for reducing seizures in some children. The diet causes the child’s body to use fats instead of carbohydrates for energy. When it’s effective, the child usually stays on the ketogenic diet for about two years, then gradually returns to normal eating. Some children are able to remain seizure-free after using this method of treatment.
The initial disadvantage to this diet is that starting it requires checking into a special medical facility and undergoing continual monitoring. Many families find it difficult to maintain the regimen due to its rigidity. There is always a risk of malnutrition. Other potential complications include dehydration, growth retardation due to nutritional deficiencies, constipation and kidney stones caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood.
Epilepsy Foundation site
Mayo Clinic site