Brain Pacemakers Improve Epilepsy Treatment

According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, epilepsy is the third leading neurological disorder, affecting more than 3 million Americans, and more than 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. The estimated annual cost of epilepsy is $15.5 billion in direct and indirect costs. For some patients, antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) will effectively control seizures, allowing them to lead independent lives. However, not all patients will benefit from AEDs. Nearly 1 million individuals suffer from drug-resistant epilepsy in which seizures are not controlled by drugs, or side effects of these medications are intolerable. Additionally, AEDs can be harmful if taken during pregnancy. Without effective treatment, the visible nature of epileptic seizures—muscle twitches, convulsions, massive muscle spasms, tongue-biting and staring spells, to name a few—can make it difficult for patients to live normal lives. Children find it difficult to concentrate in school, and the unpredictable nature of seizures can make extracurricular activities and bonding with peers extremely challenging. For adults, epilepsy can force patients not to drive or work, and building and maintaining relationships can be difficult. Alternative Treatments Some alternative treatments can free patients from the side effects of AEDs and allow them to enjoy greater quality of life. Some of these options include the ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates and protein. Other options include brain surgery and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). In epilepsy surgery, a portion of a specific region in the brain thought to be causing seizures is removed. Patients are candidates for brain surgery if the source of seizures can be identified, accessed, and removed safely. VNS is much less invasive...