Epilepsy is a neurological condition which causes people to experience recurrent and uncontrollable seizures. Seizures occur when clusters of nerve cells in the brain send out the wrong signals. There are many different types of seizure including strange sensations, emotions or behaviors, violent muscle spasms, convulsions, or loss of consciousness. Anything that disturbs normal nerve cell activity including illness, brain injury, an imbalance of neurotransmitters, and abnormal brain development is a potential cause of epilepsy. However, in most cases, the cause is unknown.
Spectrum and Diagnosis
Epilepsy is a spectrum condition and can range from benign to severe and disabling. It is difficult to diagnose and various tests including electroencephalograms, magnetic resonance imaging, or computed tomography are used to help diagnose these disorders. These tests will measure electrical activity in the brain and detect brain abnormalities. Having a single seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. However when a person has two or more seizures, that were not caused by a known medical condition, he or she is considered to have the disorder.
There is no cure for epilepsy. For most patients, seizures are effectively controlled with medications with some drugs being more effective for specific seizure types. Only if medications are proven ineffective then surgery may be necessary. Most seizures do not cause brain damage, but ongoing uncontrolled seizures may cause brain damage.
Research and Neuromodulation for Epilepsy
Under the leadership of Drs. Robert Gross and Kimford Meador, the nationally prominent Epilepsy neuromodulation program has played a major role in several pivotal clinical trials and supports ongoing laboratory research exploring novel neuromodulation approaches and targets, particularly for the treatment of medication-refractory epilepsy patients. Emory was the second implantation leading center in a recent multicenter trial of DBS of the anterior thalamus for complex partial seizures, and participated as well in the multicenter trial of responsive neurostimulation for epilepsy. In a long-standing collaboration between Emory and research scientists in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, several epilepsy neuromodulation programs are underway in both the clinic and laboratory.