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UTMB Opens Epilepsy Monitoring Unit

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Published on Oct 24, 2013

Epilepsy has been misunderstood throughout most of human history. Known as the Sacred Disease or the Falling Sickness, the Ancient Greeks believed you contracted epilepsy by offending the Moon Goddess, Selene. Ancient Romans believed that you could catch it from demons.

Today, we know that none of this is true. So what exactly is epilepsy?

(Dr. Masel): "Epilepsy is a condition when neurons in the brain fire when they are not supposed to. And what happens is when neurons start mis-firing, they recruit other neurons to do the same thing. And we liken it to an electrical storm in the brain. And it can cause a person to have loss of consciousness or impairment of consciousness. "

Ten percent of the American population will experience a seizure in their lifetime.
Seizures pose serious danger to epileptics.

(Dr. Masel): "Its particularly dangerous or a couple reasons. One is if somebody is doing an activity such as driving, cooking, being up on a ladder, and they have an epileptic seizure during that activity, that can result in serious bodily injury or even death.
The other thing is that if they are just in bed sleeping, and not at risk for bodily injury, if a seizure goes on long enough, it can actually cause brain damage or death just by virtue of the neurons firing alone."

There are different types of epilepsy based on where the electrical storm occurs in the brain. If it affects one side of the brain, it is a partial or focal seizure. A generalized seizure affects both sides. The location of the seizure in the brain also affects the symptoms.

While some epileptic symptoms may be quite noticeable, others are not.

(Dr. Masel): "There's also complex partial seizures which also involve staring off which may last for a few seconds up to a few minutes. And sometimes we do have patients who are thought by their parents and teachers to just be daydreamers because they are staring off and they don't seem to register what was said. And when we do an investigation with EEG we discover they have absence seizures. And its sad because the kids get blamed for not paying attention and not being a space cadet when, really, they are having seizures. The thing about absence seizures is that, although we don't want parents to be alarmists, they are very easily treated. So, we don't want to miss something that is so easily treatable. "

70 percent of people with epilepsy can be expected to enter remission.

(Dr. Masel): "The fact that we have safer, more tolerable treatment options with
less side effects puts more priority now on finding these abnormalities because there is something feasible that can be done about them. "

UTMB Health is home to a specialized Epilepsy Monitoring Unit designed to evaluate, diagnose and treat seizures. Staffed by experts who monitor patients 24 hours a day, the EMU can offer answers to this mysterious and misunderstood disease.

(Dr. Masel): "And when a patient leaves the epilepsy monitoring unit on Friday morning they have an answer. We have them on a medication regiment that is appropriate. We give them a diagnosis and an explanation and set them up with whatever follow-up appointments they need."

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