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Epilepsy is not a single condition. The term covers a spectrum of brain disorders that range from severe and life-threatening to comparatively benign. Among the varied causes of epilepsies are illness, brain damage, and abnormal brain development. Sometimes, the cause remains unknown.

While there is no cure for epilepsy, the specialists on UI Health's neurological and neurosurgical teams are leading experts in epilepsy treatment and management.

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Because epilepsy causes seizures, it’s sometimes called a seizure disorder. Seizures occur when the normal activity of the brain is disrupted. Different epilepsies can cause different types of seizures. Some people may have violent muscle spasms or fall unconscious. Others might seem to become suddenly unaware and stare vacantly, oblivious to their surroundings. A seizure can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.

A person can have a seizure and not have epilepsy. For example, a high fever can cause a seizure. Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can lead to a seizure. Brain tumors, brain infections and traumatic brain injury can also lead to seizures. To find out if you have epilepsy, your UI Health neurologist will go over your medical history and ask about your seizures. You’ll undergo a complete neurological examination. You can expect to have several imaging tests of your brain. The most commonly used brain scans include computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Epilepsy Treatment

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it’s important to begin treatment quickly. Our specialists will work together to devise a comprehensive treatment program designed to control your seizures. Seizure treatments may include:

Medications: There are a variety of different antiseizure medications available, each with different risks and benefits. You and your neurologist will decide on a drug based on factors like your age, lifestyle, the type of seizures you have, side effects, and other medications you take.

Diet: A high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet — called a ketogenic diet — is sometimes used for seizure treatment in cases where medication doesn't work.

Surgery: Surgery can significantly reduce or even stop seizures in many people. If your seizures are coming from one specific part of the brain, surgical removal of that area may be an option. You will be evaluated by one of our highly skilled neurosurgeons and may undergo additional testing to confirm the exact location in the brain where the seizures start.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS): A type of surgical neuromodulation, DBS uses a surgically implanted electrode to send electrical currents deep within the structures of the brain. DBS traditionally has been used to treat unrelieved pain, but it also has been shown to be an effective treatment for disorders like epilepsy.