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Ask the Expert: Epilespy

Question: I’ve just been told I have epilepsy. How do you treat it?​

Epilepsy causes abnormal electrical signals inside the brain. These can cause a variety of symptoms, such as uncontrolled movements that produce what we call seizures.

People with epilepsy are stigmatized because of the fear people have of the severe shaking and loss of consciousness associated with grand mal seizures.

These are not the most common type of seizure episode.

Most are much more subtle and may involve staring, unresponsiveness, fumbling with hands, smacking lips or even experiencing unusual sensations such as auras.

For about 60% of patients, anti-seizure medications provide excellent seizure control.

In some patients, we can eventually stop these drugs and they continue to remain seizure-free for the rest of their lives.

Roughly one-third of patients with epilepsy cannot achieve complete seizure control through medications.

Some patients may be candidates for epilepsy surgery.

Other options include neurostimulator devices and diet therapies like the ketogenic diet, high in fat and low in carbohydrates.

Anyone experiencing someone having a seizure should:

  • Make sure the person is safe and not in a position to fall and be injured
  • Not try to stop movements from occurring
  • Not be concerned about the patient swallowing the tongue, for this is impossible.
  • Never put anything in the mouth of a person having a seizure.
  • Move the patient onto the side if he or she starts to vomit, to avoid aspirating or choking
  • Seek emergency care only if the seizure continues for more than five minutes or if a cluster of seizures occurs one right after another, the patient is having trouble breathing or has an injury of some kind.

People with chronic epilepsy should seek treatment from a neurologist who has the training and experience to provide long-term treatment.​

Marshfield Clinic's neurologists​ provide care in a number of our centers. Your primary care doctor can refer you to the appropriate specialty and location.