Diagnosis & Treatment
As with any disorder, accurate diagnosis is your best chance for effective treatment. “If someone has a seizure once, it doesn’t automatically mean they have epilepsy,” explains Harvey. “If they have another seizure within a relatively short amount of time, their neurologist will start considering epilepsy as a diagnosis.”
To confirm, a doctor will take a patient’s medical history, perform neuropsychological tests, blood tests, and an electroencephalogram (EEG), which detects abnormalities in the electrical activity of your brain.
Other brain imaging tests like a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are helpful too. These give detailed information about what the brain looks like and can help identify possible causes of seizures.
If diagnosed, the focus will shift to effective treatment – the goal is “no seizures, no side effects.” Most people with epilepsy can control their symptoms with medication. “Since each case is highly individual, our goal is to find a medication that’s appropriate for the specific patient,” says Dr. Bear. “Some medications may interact better with others the patient is taking, or one medication may work better with the particular type of seizure they experience.” Ultimately, the medication that works best depends on a number of factors like the type of seizures, their frequency, and the patient’s age.
Studies show 50-60% of those diagnosed with epilepsy can be seizure-free within the first year after beginning anti-seizure medication. Similarly, more than 50% of kids outgrow their epilepsy, and if advised by their doctor, could stop taking medication and never have a seizure as adults.
It’s not always easy to find the best medication the first time. Sometimes it can take a while to determine the right balance for your body, and you may have to try multiple before finding one that works.
Beyond that, medication isn’t the answer for everyone. “If a patient fails to respond to two or three medications, we generally start looking at other potential treatments,” explains Dr. Bear. “These can include neurosurgery, implantable devices, or even the adoption of a ketogenic diet.”
Living with Epilepsy
“A seizure doesn’t just affect one person; it affects friends, parents, classmates, siblings, and communities,” says Harvey. Fortunately, many people with epilepsy are able to overcome the unique challenges associated with the disorder so that they can enjoy a greater quality of life. According to a report published on the National Epilepsy Foundation website, 70% of children and adults with diagnosed epilepsy can be expected to enter remission following five years or more without a seizure while on medication. And of those not in remission, 80% of people can control epilepsy with other treatment.
Though there is currently no cure for epilepsy, the disorder can be effectively managed much of the time. Stay informed and work with your health care team to determine the best course of action for you. HS