Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects over three million people in the United States, and more than a quarter of those individuals suffer from drug-resistant epilepsy, which means that they cannot control their seizures with medication alone.
Epileptic seizures can be devastating, potentially uncontrollable, and can limit an individual's ability to perform daily activities.
Story of Tom
Tom (not his real name) is one such person with epilepsy. He had his first seizure at age 16 and was initially able to control his seizures with medication. However, his seizures became uncontrollable and began to have a significant impact on his life, including his ability to work and take care of his family. He eventually became a candidate for epilepsy surgery, which he hoped would remove the faulty brain tissue causing his seizures.
Tom underwent a comprehensive evaluation at the epilepsy center at the University of California, San Diego. However, he was told that he was not an optimal surgery candidate and that doctors did not feel safe operating on him. Despite this setback, Tom remained hopeful and continued to search for solutions.
In 2018, Tom returned to the epilepsy center at UCSD and met with Dr. Jerry Shih, the center's director. Shih informed Tom that they now had access to new technologies that were not available in 2009, and he suggested that they explore alternative treatment options.
The team of doctors at UCSD inserted tiny electrodes into Tom's brain to find the primary source of his seizures, and in 2019, they used a laser to remove that bit of his brain. Tom is now seizure-free as long as he takes his medication.
Tom's story is not unique. As medical technology advances, doctors are increasingly able to assess and treat drug-resistant epilepsy, including using tiny electrodes, lasers, MRI machines that provide high-resolution images during surgery, and implanted devices that can stop a seizure in its tracks.
Advancement in Epilepsy Treatment
In the past, surgical treatment was considered a last resort for treating epilepsy, but today, it is becoming more common, and many patients need only minimally invasive procedures. These advances in technology are changing the way doctors approach epilepsy treatment and have shown that surgery is not always as daunting as it once was.
Diagnosing and treating epilepsy relies on monitoring the brain's electrical activity, or electrophysiology, and improving this monitoring technology is the key to many of the recent advancements in epilepsy treatment. For example, a procedure known as stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) involves inserting electrodes into areas of the brain thought to be causing a patient's seizures.
Another key advance is the ability to combine SEEG information with high-resolution MRI scans, allowing surgeons to locate precisely the area of the brain that is causing seizures. These new technologies provide hope for individuals with epilepsy, and more research is needed to develop new treatments and improve existing ones.
Tom's story is an excellent example of how technological advancements change how doctors assess and treat drug-resistant epilepsy. With new technologies like tiny electrodes, lasers, MRI machines, and implanted devices, surgical treatment is increasingly becoming viable for many epilepsy patients. Furthermore, the key to improving epilepsy treatment is continued research and development in electrophysiology and brain monitoring technology.