search

Epilepsy

A controllable condition

Epilepsy is a condition that occurs when the brain’s nerve cells fire abnormal electrical charges. The condition can be triggered by genetic factors, Alzheimer’s disease or other congenital conditions such as Down’s syndrome. In most cases, epilepsy is a lifelong condition. It is not fatal, although death can occur when a person is injured during a seizure.

Common symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Temporary confusion
  • A staring spell
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness

Approximately 200,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy each year, and more than 3 million Americans are affected by the condition. Although epilepsy is more typical in children under 2 and adults over 65, anyone can be affected by it.

The University of Kansas Health System’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center is the only program in Kansas and one of only two in the Kansas City metro area to be designated a Level 4 Epilepsy Center – the industry standard for epilepsy care. This designation means the hospital’s care teams provide the highest level of medical and surgical treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.

Types Of Seizure

No single type of seizure defines epilepsy. The type of seizure, and which part of the body it affects, depends on the part of the brain affected. Different patients have different types of seizures, and one patient may have several types of seizure.

The "generalized tonic-clonic" seizure is the most familiar type. It affects the entire brain and body, causing rigidity, convulsions and sometimes loss of consciousness. Other seizures may include changes in vision, speech or sense of smell.

Seizures may be triggered by certain factors or events, including:

  • Failure to take medication as prescribed (the most common)
  • Flashing or flickering lights (e.g., strobe lights and television)
  • Lack of food or sleep
  • Stress

Hospital receives Level 4 designation

The National Association of Epilepsy Centers designated The University of Kansas Health System a Level 4 Epilepsy Center – the industry standard for care of this condition. As one of about 100 healthcare facilities nationwide with this designation, the hospital can provide medical, neuropsychological and psychosocial care for patients with the type of epilepsy that does not respond to drug therapy. Other treatments include:

  • Noninvasive evaluation for epilepsy surgery
  • Surgery to remove the area of the brain that is causing seizures
  • Implantation of a nerve stimulator

The health system’s multidisciplinary team provides seamless inpatient and outpatient care for adolescents and adults, including pregnant women. We coordinate treatment and care between each patient's entire care team, including epilepsy specialists, clinical pharmacists, advanced practice nurses and other specialists.

We also participate in research to advance the quality of epilepsy care. Level 4 Epilepsy Centers have the professional expertise and facilities to provide the highest level of medical and surgical evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.

Tools to define the problem

The symptoms of epilepsy can sometimes be caused by other factors, such as depression, diabetes, sleep disorders or stress. As a result, a patient may receive an incorrect diagnosis. In addition to a review of a person’s medical history and a complete medical and behavioral evaluation, physicians at The University of Kansas Health System can run any or all of the following brain imaging tests and evaluations to ensure a proper diagnosis:

  • Electroencephalogram, or EEG – a measurement of the brain's electrical activity and the primary test used to diagnose epilepsy
  • Video EEG monitoring to determine the type of seizures and where they come from
  • Computed tomography, or CT scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI
  • Functional MRI, or fMRI
  • Positron emission tomography, or PET
  • Single-photon emission computerized tomography, or SPECT
  • Neuropsychological tests

Pregnancy and epilepsy

To ensure the best outcomes, women with epilepsy who are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant receive comprehensive care from our experienced team. Patients receive specialized care and education in our outpatient clinic before, during and after pregnancy. We provide multispecialty referral, including:

  • High-risk obstetric care
  • Advanced imaging

What can be done

Epilepsy is commonly treated with a combination of medicines to control seizures and the brain's electrical activity. When drugs are not effective in managing seizures, specific treatment plans may include:

  • A high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that helps the body burn fat instead of glucose
  • Nerve stimulation through a device similar to a pacemaker that sends electrical bursts to the brain through a nerve in the neck
  • Surgery to remove the part of the brain causing the seizures

The University of Kansas Health System approaches the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy with a multidisciplinary team that includes neurologists, neurosurgeons, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners.