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What Is Epilepsy? (video)

How this neurological disorder occurs and how it is treated

How this neurological disorder occurs and how it is treated

Abraham Chyung, MD, a neurologist at Scripps Clinic, discusses how epilepsy — a brain condition marked by recurring seizures — occurs. Dr. Chyung also addresses risk factors and how it is diagnosed.

Video transcript

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition in which a person may have recurring seizures. Seizures cause transient neurological symptoms in association with changes in the electrical activity of the brain. Seizures are diagnosed by catching characteristic changes in the EEG (electroencephalogram) recording.

What causes epilepsy?

Anything that causes irritation or injury to the brain is a risk factor for developing epilepsy. It can be head trauma or infection or stroke or brain cancer. Many different conditions that affect the brain can result in epilepsy.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Epilepsy is diagnosed by assessing the seizure events that occur in the patient. There are diagnostic tests that are performed, primarily a good imaging study like a brain MRI scan and an EEG test, which gives us information about the electrical activity of the brain.

How is epilepsy treated?

Epilepsy is treated primarily with medicines. Medicines that are available completely control seizures for many people. When medicines alone are not adequate to control seizures, there are further treatment options, including surgery.

The results that we'd get from an epilepsy monitoring unit test can clarify what treatment options are available.

What happens in an epilepsy monitoring unit?

Most people are familiar with EEG in which electrodes to the head and the electrical activity of the brain is recorded for a duration of about 20 to 30 minutes. Unfortunately, seizures occur randomly so the likelihood of actually recording a seizure event with an EEG is very small. Therefore, patients get admitted to the epilepsy monitoring unit where the same electrodes are applied, but the recording goes continuously, 24 hours a day, for several days. During this time, it is much more likely that it will actually record the video and the accompanying EEG of the typical seizures.

Getting this information can provide a lot of clues in terms of what else can be done to bring the seizures under control.

Watch more Ask the Expert videos now for quick answers to common medical questions.