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

Just as there are many types of epilepsy, there are many types of seizures and seizure symptoms. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Absence epilepsy, accompanied by repeated absence seizures, in which a person momentarily loses consciousness.
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy with focal seizure (or partial seizure) causes a change in or loss of consciousness. 
  • Febrile seizure is common in infants with a high fever; most children who have a febrile seizure do not develop epilepsy.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures (formerly called grand mal seizures) cause stiffening, then jerking of the muscles with a loss of consciousness.
  • Clonic seizure causes jerking and twitching of the muscles. 

Epilepsy: what you should know

  • Having one seizure does not mean you have epilepsy: You must have had two or more seizures to be diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • 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. 
  • Around 30 percent of seizures are not controlled by anti-seizure medications. These seizures are referred to by a variety of terms, including intractable epilepsy, treatment-resistant epilepsy and refractory epilepsy.

How can I get help for epilepsy?

  • If you or your child has had one or more seizures, call your primary care doctor or pediatrician. Your doctor may refer you to an epilepsy specialist at Rush to obtain an accurate diagnosis, pinpoint the source of seizures and advise the most appropriate treatment.
  • For diagnosis, your epilepsy specialist may recommend tests to measure electrical activity in your brain. These tests may include some of the following:
    • Electroencephalogram (EEG) or a video EEG (VEEG)
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Diffusion tensor imaging (a type of specialized MRI)
    • Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)
  • Patients with intractable epilepsy may benefit from seeking a second opinion from an experienced epileptologist, like those at the Rush Epilepsy Center. Sometimes patients may have a wrong initial diagnosis. In other cases, an epileptologist may recommend a more effective medication or that patients explore surgical options to help decrease seizures.

Care for epilepsy at Rush

Pinpointing seizure location: Epilepsy experts at Rush use SISCOM imaging technology. This technology helps doctors identify the origin of seizures in the brain with greater accuracy. Rush is one of only a handful of centers in Illinois with SISCOM.

Controlling seizures: Between 70 to 80 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. The goal of treatment is to stop seizures completely, while avoiding drug side effects whenever possible. 
  • Dietitians at Rush are available to counsel patients on use of the ketogenic diet and low glycemic diet to control epilepsy. The ketogenic diet is a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that your doctor may advise if you have epilepsy that is difficult to control.

Other options for intractable epilepsy: For epilepsy that is not controlled by medicine or diet, Rush can help with a variety of options:

  • Vagus nerve stimulation. Neurosurgeons at Rush implant a device that prevents seizures by sending mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain by way of the vagus nerve. The epilepsy team at Rush has experience using vagus nerve stimulation in children and adults.
  • RNS system (also called NeuroPace). Neurosurgeons at Rush implant a device that monitors brain electrical activity to detect seizure symptoms before they occur. The device then delivers small shocks to suppress the seizure. In conjunction with the RNS system, experts at Rush use an electrode-mapping system to more precisely show where to implant the device for better seizure control.

Emotional support: Having seizures – whether they are controlled or uncontrolled – can be frightening. The Epilepsy Center team at Rush is here to help you. They provide counseling and support groups for patients living with epilepsy and their families.

In addition to experienced epileptologists, the team includes the following:

  • Social workers
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Clinical pharmacists
  • Dietitians
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Neurosurgeons

Why choose Rush for epilepsy care

  • The Rush Epilepsy Center focuses on selecting the best medication regimen for each patient. Through clinical trials, epilepsy experts at Rush also participate in the study of new medical treatments that are not otherwise widely available.
  • The Rush EEG lab is one of the busiest in the region. The lab is accredited by the American Board of Registration of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists. This means the lab has met rigorous technical, personnel and safety standards.
  • Through participation in clinical trials, epilepsy experts at Rush have early experience with the RNS system, which the FDA approved in 2013. Unlike other such devices, your doctors can re-program and customize the RNS system to meet your needs without performing additional surgeries. Rush was the first in Illinois to implant the RNS system (NeuroPace) to treat epilepsy.
  • In conjunction with the RNS system, experts at Rush developed an electrode-mapping system that shows more precisely where to implant the device for better seizure control.
  • Neurosurgeons at Rush perform more surgical procedures to treat adult epilepsy than any other program in the Chicago area.

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