COLUMBIA, Mo. — Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions, affecting approximately three million Americans. But myths and misconceptions about epilepsy cause many people to remain undiagnosed and untreated because they don’t know they have the disease.
“In terms of frequency, epilepsy is one of the top neurological disorders, and yet it is undertreated,” said David Lardizabal, M.D., a neurologist and medical director of University Hospital’s Missouri Epilepsy Program. “Most people associate only loss of consciousness or violent muscle contractions, such as a grand mal seizure, with epilepsy. However, severity of the symptoms depends on the individual patient.”
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder characterized by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which affects how a person feels or acts for a short period of time. The severity of a patient’s seizures depends on the region of brain that is causing the seizures and the size of that portion of the brain.
There are several types of seizures related to epilepsy. The most well-known is the grand mal seizure, in which an individual loses consciousness and usually collapses. During a grand mal seizure, loss of consciousness is followed by violent jerking, after which the patient goes into a deep sleep. Because of the loss of consciousness and jerking, people are sometimes injured during grand mal seizures.
However, other types of seizures exhibit less-dramatic symptoms. Absence seizures, for instance, cause only a short loss of consciousness, usually for just a few seconds. The individual typically stares blankly during the seizure and then resumes his activity after only moments, unaware of the seizure except, perhaps, for the feeling that he has “lost time.”
“Also, because most epilepsy diagnoses occur in childhood, absence seizures can be confused with attention deficit disorder or even misdiagnosed as ADHD,” said Lardizabal. “This further confuses the diagnostic process and is precisely why specialists need to be involved in evaluating the patient.”
The Missouri Epilepsy Program is a joint neurosciences effort led by Lardizabal; Sean Lanigar, M.D., a neurologist; and Tomoko Tanaka, M.D, a neurosurgeon who provides surgical options for patients whose seizures are not successfully managed with medication. The multidisciplinary team also includes support from radiology, neuropsychiatry, psychology, technology, pathology and social services.
“Having this group work together allows us to diagnose and care for the patient holistically,” said Lardizabal.
Once diagnosed, epilepsy can be effectively treated through anti-seizure medication or surgery.
“Understanding the type of epilepsy a patient has requires testing and treatment,” said Lardizabal. “But because there is misunderstanding associated with the disorder, many people who might achieve better seizure control haven’t gotten the help they need.”
For more information about epilepsy or to make an appointment with the Missouri Epilepsy Program, call (573) 882-1515. To view a video of a Missouri Epilepsy Program patient sharing her experience, please visit www.muhealth.org/laura.
The Missouri Epilepsy Program at University Hospital has been designated a Level 4 epilepsy center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers. Level 4 epilepsy centers provide the highest levels of medical and surgical evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.