Courtesy of the Epilepsy Foundation
The most widely-identified form of seizures -- convulsive, generalized tonic-clonic or grand mal -- can be frightening and be cause for alarm, however, most seizures in people with epilepsy are not medical emergencies and end after a couple of minutes, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Ranging from a violent thrashing to a missing moment, the sporadic onset of epileptic fits are frightening to say the least in a disorder that remains misunderstood by many.
Affecting more than 50 million people worldwide, epileptic syndromes are defined as having two or more unprovoked seizures, generally caused by the abnormal firing of electrical signals within the brain.
While most forms of epilepsy can be controlled by medication, sometimes the extreme nature of the disorder can require alternative treatments, such as diets or surgeries, said Debbie McGrath, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana.
“Unlike diabetes or high blood pressure, there’s no test to determine when a person will have a seizure and so it can cause a great amount of anxiety and depression among individuals with continuous seizures,” McGrath said.
One such dietary method — the ketogenic diet — has been used for decades in treating children. The special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet can be extremely difficult to follow and usually is reserved for a monitored setting.
The diet allows 3 to 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of combined carbohydrate and protein, said Renee Waggoner, a registered dietician. When used in the correct setting, Waggoner said about 50 percent of children see a decrease in seizures and about 10 to 15 percent become seizure free.
The diet boosts ketone levels throughout the body and decreases the frequency of seizures, said Dr. Jim Couch, neurologist/epileptologist at the West Kentucky Epilepsy Center at Murray-Calloway County Hospital.
“A strict ketogenic diet is just about impossible for patients to do, but there’s a modified Atkins diet that is similar, that’s a little more palatable,” Couch said. “We tend to use that a lot, especially for people with bad epilepsy syndromes.”
If treatments fail, Couch said there remains surgical options, such as the anterior temporal lobectomy and vagus nerve stimulation, for a select number of patients.
Through the use of video monitoring combined with an E.E.G., Couch said neurologists can determine the abnormal nerve center and in some cases remove it, usually with a 70-to 80-percent success rate.
With 90,000 cases of seizure disorders in the state and southern Indiana, McGraw said it’s important to have a support structure.
“In treating epilepsy, there’s got to be a team approach, not only with the patient’s doctor, but with the physicians and family,” McGraw said.
Contact West Kentucky Epilepsy Center for support group information at 270-762-1566 or the Epilepsy Foundation at 502-637-4440.
Call Will Pinkston, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.