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Scientific Breakthroughs & Caregiver Tips
How Does Epilepsy Progress?
Medication is usually tried first to control seizures. Sometimes epilepsy is managed with surgery or other therapies. As epilepsy progresses, people exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, including sensations of déjà vu, twitching on one side of the body, acting confused, or having difficulty speaking. Some people just stare blankly for a few seconds. Others may twitch their arms and legs, or fall.
The percentage of people with treatment-resistant epilepsy has not decreased despite the introduction of a dozen new FDA-approved antiepileptic medications since 1993. Recurrent seizures are believed to cause progressive brain injury, resulting in loss of cognitive ability and “kindling” new seizures in the affected region of the brain.
Epilepsy research is ongoing at medical centers around the world. Scientists are investigating new therapies to halt the progression of epilepsy. Experimental treatments include:
- Responsive neurostimulation. Researchers are working on developing pacemaker-like devices that help prevent seizures. They analyze the brain’s activity to spot seizures before they happen and deliver an electrical charge or drug to stop the seizure.
- Continuous stimulation of the seizure onset zone (subthreshold stimulation). Bringing continuous stimulation to one area of the brain may improve the quality of life for some people with seizures.
- Minimally invasive surgery. New minimally invasive surgical techniques, such as MRI-guided laser ablation, may reduce seizures with fewer risks than traditional brain surgery.
- Stereotactic laser ablation or stereotactic radiosurgery. If surgery is considered too risky, a laser or radiation beam can be directed at a specific area in the brain. Destroying a small area may reduce abnormal activity in the part of the brain where seizures begin.
- External nerve stimulation. The device is designed to reduce seizures by stimulating specific nerves. Unlike vagus nerve stimulation, this device would be worn externally, so no surgery to implant the device would be needed.
- Genetic testing. Researchers are trying to identify genes that influence or cause epilepsy. Someday, doctors may be able to prevent the disorder or predict which treatments will be most beneficial to people with specific types of epilepsy.
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