How is epilepsy treated?
Virtually everybody, children and adults, diagnosed with epilepsy would be started on an anti-seizure medication. If the first medication doesn’t work, your doctor might add a second or a third medication, but if those don’t work then epilepsy surgery could be considered, if the patient qualifies for it. With epilepsy surgery, doctors first locate where in the brain the seizures are coming from, and, if they can do so without causing any significant negative side effects, they will remove that area of the brain, explains Dr. Chuang.
If medications don’t work and a patient isn’t a candidate for surgery, another option would be neurostimulation. This involves surgically placing a device either under the skin on a person’s chest to stimulate the vagus nerve (a nerve that runs from the brain through the chest), or directly on the brain, to send electric signals that help manage seizures.
Can epilepsy be cured?
Typically, people with epilepsy end up taking their medication for the rest of their lives, says Dr. Chuang. Some people will stop having seizures when they are taken off medication after epilepsy surgery, and there are some people who stop taking their medication because they’ve been seizure-free for a very long time, and after they stop the medication they actually stay seizure-free.
Can children grow out of epilepsy?
Yes. Some childhood epilepsy syndromes can be outgrown, explains Dr. May. This is different from what exists in adults. Some children can present with seizures at an early age and they may outgrow them when they get older, typically around teenage years. The goal is always to achieve what Dr. May calls “seizure freedom,” meaning no seizures, and then, based on a thorough evaluation, determine if the child is able to come off their medications. If a child has a normal EEG, normal MRI and normal development, he or she would be a good candidate to try to wean off medication when they achieve two years of seizure freedom. Doctors don’t really know why children grow out of their epilepsy, but scientists are researching this to learn more.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with epilepsy, what’s important to keep in mind?
Epilepsy can be a scary diagnosis, says Dr. Chuang. If it’s not controlled, a person can’t do a lot of things by themselves, like swim or drive a car, because they never know when they’ll have a seizure. However, those with well-controlled epilepsy, whether it’s through medication or surgery, are usually able to live a normal life.