Epilepsy

Rush epilepsy experts specialize in helping you find relief from seizures — even ones that are difficult to control.

Rush epilepsy experts specialize in helping you find relief from seizures — even ones that are difficult to control.

Rush epilepsy experts specialize in helping you find relief from seizures — even ones that are difficult to control.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells sometimes signal abnormally, often causing a seizure.

Having one seizure does not mean you have epilepsy. But it does mean you should speak to a doctor to try to determine the cause. 

Epilepsy can develop as a result of damage to the brain from a head injury or from disorders that affect the brain, such as a brain tumor or stroke. Often, there is no detectable risk factor for developing epilepsy.

Types of Seizures

The International League Against Epilepsy reclassified seizure types in 2017. Seizures are now described by the following:

  • Where the seizure starts in your brain (generalized affecting both sides or focal starting on one side)
  • How aware you are during a seizure (aware or impaired)
  • Whether movement occurs during the seizure (motor or non-motor) and what type of movement: muscles twitching (myoclonus), becoming limp (atonic), jerking (clonic) or becoming rigid (tonic)

Epilepsy Diagnosis at Rush

If you have had a seizure, your primary care provider may refer you for specialized testing.

Epilepsy testing often includes an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical activity in your brain and try to locate the source of seizures. This is known as "seizure localization" or finding the seizure's "focus."

EEGs performed at Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora and Rush University Medical Center are read by epilepsy specialists from Rush University Medical Center. Pediatric EEGs performed at Rush Oak Park Hospital are read by epilepsy specialists from Rush University Medical Center. 

We use multiple types of EEG and other seizure visualization at Rush, depending on your situation and where you have your test:

  • Routine EEG: Routine EEG records electrical activity in your brain for a short period of time (typically 20 to 30 minutes). Routine EEG is offered at Rush Oak Park Hospital, Rush Copley Medical Center and Rush University Medical Center. 
  • Continuous video EEG (VEEG): Continuous video EEG uses scalp electrodes that record video and audio of your seizure. Continuous video EEG is used for longer-term monitoring to capture seizures and/or to evaluate you for epilepsy surgery. VEEG is offered at Rush University Medical Center.
  • High density EEG (HEEG): Similar to a scalp EEG, an HEEG uses more electrodes combined with high-quality imaging. This gives doctors a better sense of where the seizures come from and can be used to plan epilepsy surgery. If we also need to do an intracranial EEG, an HEEG gives us more targeted planning and guidance. HEEG is offered at Rush University Medical Center. 
  • SISCOM: SISCOM is a brain mapping tool that epileptologists use to visualize activity in your brain during a seizure. SISCOM is performed in the epilepsy monitoring unit at Rush University Medical Center. It is less invasive than an intracranial EEG and can be used to plan surgery. 
  • Intracranial EEG monitoring: An intracranial EEG (also called invasive EEG) uses electrodes implanted in your brain by a neurosurgeon to record brain waves on your brain. An intracranial EEG helps more precisely identify where your seizures come from than an MRI, scalp EEG or other imaging. Intracranial EEG is offered at Rush University Medical Center. 
  • Stereotactic EEG (SEEG): Similar to an intracranial EEG, stereotactic EEG uses electrodes implanted in your brain. SEEG is less invasive, however, than intracranial EEG. With SEEG, Rush neurosurgeons use stereotactic guidance. This means they combine at least two forms of imaging to provide a more three dimensional map of your brain. SEEG is offered at Rush University Medical Center. 

Epilepsy Treatment at Rush

Rush general neurologists across the system collaborate with our epileptologists in downtown Chicago. If your seizures are difficult to control, they may recommend you see a Rush epileptologist for specialized epilepsy care.

Seizure Control

  • Between 60 and 70 percent of patients with epilepsy achieve full seizure control through medical treatment.
  • Epilepsy specialists at Rush focus on selecting the best regimen of seizure medications for each patient. Our goal is to stop your seizures completely, while avoiding drug side effects whenever possible.

Intractable Epilepsy

  • If you have seizures that have not been controlled by two or more medications, you may have intractable epilepsy. This is also known as "refractory epilepsy" or "drug-resistant epilepsy."
  • Some people with intractable epilepsy may have the wrong initial diagnosis or be on the wrong medication.
  • Rush epileptologists may recommend a medication that is more effective for you, surgical options that can help decrease seizures, and/or advanced EEG monitoring for more precise seizure localization.

Anti-Seizure Dietary Approaches

  • Dietitians and epileptologists at Rush counsel patients on use of the ketogenic diet (or, keto diet) and low glycemic diet to control epilepsy.
  • The keto diet is a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that your doctor may advise for your epilepsy.
  • A low glycemic index diet also monitors your total carbohydrates, but instead focuses on carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index. Glycemic index refers to the amount by which the food raises your blood glucose after eating.

Epilepsy Surgery and Nonsurgical Procedures

Rush neurosurgeons perform the following surgeries and minimally invasive procedures:

Removal of Seizure Focus

  • Focal resection: Rush neurosurgeons remove the part of the brain causing seizures (the "focus"). One of the most common focal resections performed is temporal lobectomy. In temporal lobectomy, neurosurgeons remove parts of the temporal lobe and other areas of the brain to treat temporal lobe epilepsy.

Neuromodulation

  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS): Rush neurosurgeons in downtown Chicago offer asleep deep brain stimulation for epilepsy. Asleep DBS is performed while the patient is under general anesthesia, not awake. Asleep DBS may be beneficial for people with uncontrolled, or intractable, focal seizures. 
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: Rush neurosurgeons implant a device that prevents seizures by sending mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain through the vagus nerve. The epilepsy team at Rush uses vagus nerve stimulation in children and adults.
  • Responsive neurostimulation (RNS): Rush neurosurgeons implant a neurostimulator device (also known as NeuroPace) that monitors brain electrical activity. They use an electrode-mapping system to determine where to implant the device for better seizure control. The device detects abnormal brain wave activity. The neurostimulator then delivers small pulses to stop the seizure from happening.

Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT)

  • In laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT), Rush neurosurgeons heat the tip of a laser catheter to burn the lesion area causing seizures. LITT can significantly improve seizures using only a small hole in your skin that is easily stitched.
  • LITT may be a good option for people who have seizures that come from very specific areas of the brain that are not involved in speech (non-eloquent).
  • People with mesial temporal sclerosis are often ideal candidates for LITT.

Corpus Callosotomy

  • Rush neurosurgeons cut the corpus callosum, which connects the left and right sides of your brain. This stops seizures from spreading from one side of your brain to the other.
  • It is most often used for people with intractable drop seizures. Although not a cure, it can reduce how often you have seizures.

Telemedicine Options

  • If you are unable to travel to downtown Chicago for specialized epilepsy care, we offer telemedicine visits. With telemedicine, we talk with you through a virtual visit (online video call) about your potential options.

Epilepsy Team Support

  • The downtown Chicago epilepsy team includes nurse practitioners and social workers. They provide you with ongoing epilepsy education and support.
  • The epilepsy team's goal is to make sure you don't have to live with seizures that are not controlled. If you live in an area without access to specialized care, the team can help find you the resources (such as transportation or telemedicine) necessary to get a new perspective on your seizure control.
  • We also work with your current provider to arrange for follow-up care in your location after an epilepsy procedure at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Epilepsy Clinical Trials

  • Our clinicians actively seek new treatment options for epilepsy. Your epilepsy team may talk with you about a clinical trial for a potential new treatment.

Rush Excellence in Epilepsy

  • Epilepsy expertise: Rush Epilepsy Care treats more than 5,000 adults and children with epilepsy each year. Our center in downtown Chicago is a level 4 NAEC-accredited center. That means they meet the highest standards for seizure diagnosis and care.
  • Safe seizure monitoring: We know going off seizure medication for continuous monitoring can be dangerous. That's why at our epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) at Rush University Medical Center, we always have at least one EEG technician monitoring you for an extra level of care. We also have inpatient nurses who have EMU-specific safety training.
  • Medication selection: Finding the right medication to control your seizures requires expertise and an understanding of your overall health. For example, if you have migraines, the wrong anti-seizure medication might make them worse. Rush epilepsy specialists look at your other health issues to choose the right medication for you.
  • Epilepsy surgery: Rush neurosurgeons have extensive experience performing epilepsy surgery to remove the part of your brain causing seizures. They also offer minimally invasive options, such as deep brain stimulation and laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT). Based on their extensive experience, the epilepsy team is able to recommend which intervention is likely to have the most benefit for your seizures.
  • Alternative ways to find seizure focus: Locating a scar or lesion on your brain is important so we can target where your seizures come from. Our epilepsy specialists are trained to manually measure the hippocampus as a way to "find" a scar when it is not visible through imaging. This technique (called measuring "hippocampal volume") offers similar outcomes to our patients who have a clear lesion image. It can be particularly helpful for patients with mesial temporal sclerosis. 
  • Specialty pharmacy for anti-seizure medications: Our downtown Chicago location has a specialty pharmacy that processes all patients' anti-seizure medications. The medications are mailed directly to your home. The pharmacy also sends reminders when your medication is about to run out so you do not miss any doses.
  • Ketogenic diet therapy for adults: Rush is one of only a few places in the U.S., and the first in Illinois, to offer ketogenic diet therapy for adults with epilepsy. Dietary approaches have been shown to make seizures less severe and improve quality of life in many people with epilepsy.
  • Emotional support: The downtown Chicago team includes dedicated social workers. Their focus is on your emotional, spiritual and mental well-being, including your support systems. They evaluate your overall well-being and help you address any needs for resources or support. 

Get a Second Opinion

A second opinion can confirm your epilepsy diagnosis and point to new treatment options.

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Clinical Trials

Researchers at Rush are investigating new epilepsy treatments.

See open clinical trials

Testimonials

Sometimes patients come to me, and they’re just happy that they’ve been seizure-free long enough that they can drive again. Or that they have their seizures well-enough controlled that they can join the workforce again. You have to see the patient in front of you — not in terms of the seizure disorder — but the person and how they function in their world and how their seizures are affecting their everyday life.

Rebecca O'Dwyer, MD, Epileptologist