Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain becomes disrupted, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations and, sometimes, loss of consciousness. Seizure symptoms can vary widely. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs.
Medications are typically the first line of treatment for patients with epilepsy. In addition, our team has expertise in nonmedication management, including vagus nerve stimulator implantation and management.
Epilepsy can have a big impact on your life, but you are not alone. Our team is here to help you. Do not be afraid to ask questions or talk about concerns you have. We can help you live your life to the fullest.
Call 715-838-1900 with questions or to schedule an appointment.
Doctors generally classify seizures as either focal or generalized, based on the abnormal brain activity.
Seizures that appear to result from abnormal activity in just one area of your brain are called focal (partial) seizures. Symptoms of focal seizures may be confused with other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy or mental illness. A thorough examination and testing, which could include a stay in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, are needed to distinguish epilepsy from other disorders.
Types of focal seizures include:
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness. Once called simple partial seizures, these seizures don't cause a loss of consciousness. They may alter emotions or change the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. They may also result in involuntary jerking of a body part, such as an arm or leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and flashing lights.
- Focal seizures with impaired awareness. Once called complex partial seizures, these seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. During a complex partial seizure, you may stare into space and not respond normally to your environment or perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles.
Seizures that appear to involve all areas of the brain are called generalized seizures, including:
- Absence seizures. Absence seizures, previously known as petit mal seizures, often occur in children and are characterized by staring into space or subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking. These seizures may occur in clusters and cause a brief loss of awareness.
- Tonic seizures. Tonic seizures cause stiffening of your muscles. These seizures usually affect muscles in your back, arms and legs and may cause you to fall to the ground.
- Atonic seizures. Atonic seizures, also known as drop seizures, cause a loss of muscle control, which may cause you to suddenly collapse or fall down.
- Clonic seizures. Clonic seizures are associated with repeated or rhythmic, jerking muscle movements. These seizures usually affect the neck, face and arms.
- Myoclonic seizures. Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden brief jerks or twitches of your arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures, previously known as grand mal seizures, are the most dramatic type of epileptic seizure and can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness, body stiffening and shaking, and sometimes loss of bladder control or biting your tongue.
- Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is the most common type of generalized epilepsy syndrome and typically emerges in mid- to-late childhood. It is characterized by the presence of absence, myoclonic and tonic-clonic seizures.
Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) is a severe type of epilepsy with multiple types of seizures. It accounts for approximately 2 to 5 percent of all cases of childhood epilepsy. LGS seizures can be difficult to control and require life-long treatment. Learning problems often, but not always, result from by LGS. Children with LGS may develop normally before the onset to LGS but then lose their previously acquired skills such as sitting, crawling or walking.
Epilepsy Monitoring Unit
Our hospital includes a four-bed Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, which is specially designated to evaluate, diagnose and treat seizures.
During a stay, you have continuous video electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures vital signs and provides an audiovisual recording of activities. An EEG detects electrical activity in your brain using small, flat metal electrodes attached to the scalp.
An EMU stay can provide your care team with critical information for the classification and evaluation of abnormal spells. It helps develop a treatment plan that works for you. It also provides a safe space to make changes to medications and for other health concerns, such as memory loss or cognitive impairments.
You are able to move freely around the room during your stay, which could last up to five days. Your neurologist will decide if an EMU stay is appropriate for you.
This instructional video from Mayo Clinic in Arizona outlines and introduces the general guidelines of an EMU stay. It pays special attention to safety procedures, activity limitations and various methods used to induce seizures (or events) throughout the patient's EMU admission. The information provided is applicable to your EMU stay in Eau Claire.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Medications are typically the first line of treatment for patients with epilepsy. However, vagus nerve stimulation may be helpful if you continue to struggle with breakthrough seizures. It has effectively treated seizures for approximately 20 years, especially in patients who have partial seizures. Studies found that patients experienced a significant reduction, up to 50 percent, in the frequency and intensity of seizures after vagus nerve stimulation.
You have one vagus nerve on each side of your body, running from your brainstem through your neck to your chest and abdomen. Vagus nerve stimulation is a system in which a device, similar to a pacemaker, is implanted in your chest wall by an ear, nose and throat (otorhinolaryngology) physician. Then, the device is connected to a wire that is wrapped around your left vagus nerve. The procedure uses a small incision, and most patients can go home the same day as the procedure.
After a short healing time, a neurologist turns on the device to a low setting during a clinic visit. Small electrical signals are sent to this nerve on a scheduled basis. The device can be programmed to deliver electric impulses at various times, frequencies and currents. Each week, the device is monitored and adjusted until you reach a peak tolerance or find seizure control.
Our Eau Claire team has experience with vagus nerve stimulation implantation and management.