Nearly one of every 100 Americans suffers from epilepsy, defined as recurrent seizures without an obvious cause. Seizures are brief episodes of abnormal electrical activity in the brain that alter behavior. Behavioral changes due to seizure activity can take many forms, including waves of fear or depression, hallucinations, “pins and needles” sensations, staring spells, momentary jerks or head nods, and rapid shaking spells (convulsions) lasting minutes or hours.
Having epilepsy increases one’s risk of injury or illness due to falls, burns, or choking. People with epilepsy typically are prohibited from driving or operating heavy machinery, limiting their opportunities for employment. Furthermore, the effects of anti-seizure medications and the social stigma of seizures lead many patients with epilepsy to feel that they have no control over their own lives.
Many epilepsy patients achieve good control of their seizures with medicines prescribed by their physicians. Some children with epilepsy stop having seizures while following a strict, very specialized diet. Unfortunately about one in three people with epilepsy continue having seizures in spite of appropriate medical treatment. Recent advances in medical technology and surgical techniques mean that most of these patients with drug resistant (pharmacoresistant) epilepsy can be helped with some type of surgery.