Understanding Epilepsy

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 16,969
    Dr. William Bell discusses the symptoms and process of diagnosing epilepsy.

    William Bell: Hi! I'm Dr. William Bell. I'm Director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center of Georgetown University Hospital. Today I'm going to talk about Epilepsy; Epilepsy is a chronic disorder that is characterized by recurrent seizures. A seizure is actually an excessive discharge of electrical activity within the brain, resulting in a change in movement, sensation, experience or consciousness. It affects 1 out of 100, to 1 out of 200 Americans. People with Epilepsy suffer through other disabilities, such as employment, relationships, and even something simple as driving. There are many patients that may have 20 or 30 seizures a day, and for them life is very difficult, because they can do almost nothing.

    To diagnose someone with Epilepsy, we really first take the actual symptom of Epilepsy, which is the seizure, we take a good history and usually we have to talk to the family members or some observer of that seizure. Often times during the seizure, the patient has lost consciousness and they can not provide a good history. After the history we do a physical examination, we do certain diagnostic test. One of the most important is the EEG, or Electro Encephalo Gram. We also follow that with some imaging studies such as a CT Scan or MRI Scan of the brain.

    But sometimes we really need to see the event, and what we're able to do is admit a patient to Epilepsy Monitoring Unit and in this unit we can monitor them with video and their EEG at all times. Our goal in our Epilepsy Center is to give every patient an opportunity to be seizure free, and that's sometimes difficult. We look at every aspect of their lifestyle; we eliminate certain habits, such as excessive alcohol. Certain medications many triggered seizures. We try to choose the right medication. sometime more than one medication. Even then, there may be about a third of the population of patients that we treat that still may continue to have seizures. Anybody can get Epilepsy; there are patients who are genetically predisposed to develop Epilepsy more than others. However, most of time there is no known cause. There are several risk factors for Epilepsy, such as head injury and having a stroke, and so, if we can do all we can to avoid injury to the head by treating hypertension to avoid a stroke, we try to that. There is not one certain cure for Epilepsy, but there are several treatment options that may greatly decrease the frequency of seizures or eliminate them all together.

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