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Childhood Epilepsy Treatments

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Both operations can prevent seizures from spreading.

A hemispherectomy is another procedure in which up to half of the entire brain is removed. These surgeries have greater risks, but they can make a huge difference for children with uncontrolled seizures and related disabilities.

Surgery isn't an option for every person with severe epilepsy. If the epilepsy is the result of a number of lesions on different sides of the brain, surgery won't be effective.

Making the decision to have surgery is difficult. You don't need to rush into it. Unless there's a tumor that's causing the seizures, there's no special urgency. Learn about the surgery and its alternatives. Make sure that you -- and your child -- feel absolutely sure of the surgery before deciding to do it.

Epilepsy and Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS)

VNS is a newer type of treatment for people with seizures who haven't had success with medication and are not candidates for epilepsy surgery. In some ways, it's conceptually similar to a pacemaker for people with heart problems. VNS involves implanting a small device about the size of a silver dollar in the chest. It is attached by small wires under the skin to the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck, and programmed to regularly emit pulses of electricity to the nerve every few minutes.

Exactly why the device works isn't entirely known, but these regular pulses of electricity help reduce the frequency or intensity of seizures. The device can also be triggered manually by a magnet that can be worn on the wrist or belt. If a person feels a seizure coming on, he or she can wave the magnet over the device to cause it to immediately deliver an electric charge. Parents could also use the magnet on their child after a seizure has begun.

The most common side effect of VNS is hoarseness and, less commonly, discomfort. It may also cause a person's voice to change during the few seconds of stimulation (for that reason, people sometimes turn it off before singing or public speaking). A doctor will be able to reprogram the device in the office using a computer, and you shouldn't need any further maintenance until the battery runs out, which will probably be about six to eight years.

VNS doesn't cure epilepsy but, like anti-seizure medicines, in most people it helps reduce symptoms. Usually, a person using VNS would still take medication, although probably in smaller doses.

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