By Koeun Choi
For many, epilepsy can be a very manageable disease. Treatments for epilepsy can range from surgery, specialized diets, medical devices, and/or a cocktail of drugs. The right course of treatment is directed by the doctor and requires a multitude of tests and trials beforehand. Unfortunately, all these different pathways come with sometimes even more serious consequences and side effects. In addition, 10% of the population of people who suffer from epilepsy receive no benefits from the current available treatments. Tackling epilepsy can be challenging, and it requires true dedication and commitment from families to overcome it.
First, doctors usually look towards prescribing anti-epileptic medication. About 70% of the epileptic population relies on the prescriptions, but it is not a cure. They must take their medication at least once a day. Some of the common ones like Tegretol, which is used for mixed seizures, have common side effects like fatigue, nausea and dizzieness. But others like Depakote, Valium, and Fycompa can cause problems with memory, cognitive and language delays for children, and behavioral changes. For some children, it makes learning difficult; and especially if they experience seizures in class, it can make having epilepsy a socially depressing disease. Usually, it is from the embarrassment that the kids have trouble with in class more so than anything else. Stigmatism in the classroom is a main issue that children face with epilepsy.
Surgery would require studying the patient’s brain and focusing on the specific area that causes the seizures to start and actually removing the problem causing area. A less severe method, or for cases where the area triggering the seizures are too large, there is the implantation of a vagal nerve stimulator. This acts almost like an electrical pacemaker, placed by a large nerve in the neck where short bursts of electric energy are directed into the brain. Unfortunately, these methods don’t always work. About the 30% of the patients who cannot rely on the medication or side effects looks toward these options.
Epileptic people are also known to go on the ketogenic diet, which essentially is like the Atkins Diet for bamfs. It consists of almost all fat and no carbs, which could make eating out very difficult. How it works, for those of you who are interested, is that as the body receives less and less glucose in the person’s everyday diet. When the body runs out of carbohydrates, which it definitely will because of the such low quantity consumed, it will continuously rely on burning fat which almost mimics starvation. How this helps derail seizures is not yet understood, but it’s pretty cool. This however, needs to be heavily controlled, down to the last calorie, with the proper consultation of doctors and nutritionists.
It truly is difficult to imagine how heavily some families can be affected by epilepsy, especially when they cannot rely on the available treatments, or if the treatments bring about harsh side effects. But it is important to recognize the strength it takes to live with epilepsy, and be able to admire those who stand by them.
Center for Disease Control. 2013. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved September 21, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/basics/faqs.htm#6.
New York Times. Feb 20, 2007. Aliyah Baruchin. “Battling Epilepsy, and Its Stigma.” Retrieved September 21,2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/20/health/20epil.html?pagewanted=all.
National Institute of Health. 2013. “Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope through Research.” Retrieved September 21, 2013.