Medical Minute: Treating Epilepsy

According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, 2.3 million people in the United States have epilepsy.

Often diagnosed at a young age, many patients go years, even a lifetime, with inadequate control of their seizures.

Now, more aggressive treatment is getting patients back into life.

Margaret Weems has epilepsy. She said, "I've been involved in music since three. Music is just something that exercises every part of the brain." Diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 12, Margaret never knew if her performances would be seizure-free. "I pretty much could not ever be left alone."

Even on medication, she had up to five seizures a week. Dr. Jerome Engel says thirty percent of epileptic patients are not controlled with medication. He said, "There is no specific approach to the medical treatment, and its trial and error by most physicians."

When drugs fail, surgery is often used as a last resort, partly because of the fear of brain surgery.

Dr. Engel is leading a study to find out if surgery earlier in the disease is a better option. "Epilepsy itself is much more dangerous than surgery. The risk of death from seizures is much greater than it is from surgery." Surgery may be the best bet for many patients. Studies show one-third of patients remain seizure-free two years after surgery. Margaret had the surgery at the age of 16. Now 29-years-old, she hasn't had a seizure since.

"It's been awesome. It's been amazing." Margaret says it took about a year to recover from not having seizures, but it was worth it.

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