Epilepsy Treatment

Epilepsy Treatment - Surgical Options
You might not equate epilepsy treatment with an ENT specialist, but Jerome List, MD, DDS, with Alaska Ear Nose & Throat in Anchorage, Alaska, has the surgical training required for one of the most cutting-edge treatment options available for this condition. Vagus nerve stimulator implantation is a type of neck surgery that helps those with poorly controlled epilepsy to prevent a seizure.

Surgical Treatment Options for Epilepsy Q&A

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that disrupts nerve cell activity in the brain, leading to seizures or periods of strange behavior. This condition is often associated with grand mal seizures, but people with epilepsy can stare blankly, fall asleep, or simply have a mild twitch in their legs or arms. These are also seizures but are less obvious than a grand mal.

The diversity of the condition creates a very dangerous situation for patients with epilepsy because they have no control over the behavior. It’s hard to predict when a seizure will hit or how it will manifest. This prohibits them from driving, perhaps playing certain sports or even swimming for pleasure.

What causes epilepsy?

The underlying cause of the epilepsy isn’t always clear and varies from patient to patient. For some, it’s a condition linked to specific genes, so it runs in families. For others, head trauma is the culprit. There are also brain conditions and diseases that can bring on sudden epilepsy such as a tumor, stroke, or infection. Seizure disorders like epilepsy appear to be closely linked to developmental disorders, as well, such as autism.

While doctors may not understand epilepsy fully, there are risk factors to consider such as:

  • Age -- the condition usually affects those who are very young or over 60
  • Family history
  • Previous head trauma
  • Vascular disease
  • Brain infection
  • History of febrile seizures in childhood combined with another risk factor

What is vagus nerve stimulator implantation?

The vagus nerve stimulator is sometimes called a pacemaker for the brain; a vagus nerve stimulator implantation might be an effective treatment for some patients with epilepsy. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve of your autonomic system, meaning it helps control subconscious functions such as your heartbeat and breathing. Your neck serves as a conduit for this large nerve, as it travels from your brain to your chest. This makes it easily accessible with surgery.

With a vagus nerve stimulator implantation, Dr. List places a device near that nerve and threads wires to connect with it. Once activated, the device sends electrical signals to the brain to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. This is a practical solution for patients who don’t respond to any other medical intervention to control their epilepsy.

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