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Epilepsy - Surgery

Even though medicine is the most common approach to treating epilepsy, it does not always work. In almost one-third of people with epilepsy, medicine cannot control their seizures adequately (or at all, in some cases). This number is even higher in people with focal epilepsy. Surgery can greatly improve the lives of some people who have epilepsy.

You may be a good candidate for surgery if your seizures:

Recommended Related to Epilepsy

Childhood Epilepsy Treatments

One possible option for some children with epilepsy is surgery. You may be frightened by the idea of your child having brain surgery, a treatment reserved for a select few, but improvements have made these operations much safer and more effective. "In the old days, doctors would wait 20 years before trying surgery in a person with epilepsy who didn't respond to medication," says William R. Turk, MD, Chief of the Neurology Division at the Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "That...

Read the Childhood Epilepsy Treatments article > >

  • Occur often enough to severely disrupt your life.
  • Tend to result in injury or harm (for instance, if seizures cause frequent falls).
  • Change or alter your consciousness.
  • Are not controlled well with medicine, or you cannot tolerate the side effects of the medicines.

Having frequent or severe seizures often restricts you from driving, doing certain kinds of work, and other activities. Medicine may fail to control these seizures. Or medicine may cause side effects severe enough to disrupt your lifestyle.

Surgery is not an "if all else fails" approach to treating epilepsy. It often may be a better choice than trying each and every medicine. For adults with temporal lobe epilepsy, for instance, surgery may be considered if two different first-line medicines are tried and neither controls the seizures adequately. For certain types of childhood epilepsy—disorders that children cannot outgrow and that do not respond to medicine—having surgery at the youngest possible age may offer the greatest benefit for the child. The younger brain is more adaptable and recovers better after surgery.

Epilepsy surgery removes an area of abnormal tissue in the brain, such as a tumor or scar tissue, or the specific area of brain tissue where seizures begin. Before surgery, you may have several tests (including an electroencephalogram [EEG], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], and video monitoring) to find exactly where seizures begin in the brain. After the area of abnormal tissue where your seizures begin has been located, doctors can decide whether or not it can be removed safely.

Surgery is usually done in a hospital that is associated with an epilepsy center. The surgery usually takes a few hours, and you have to stay in the hospital for a few days afterward. It may be several months or more before you feel fully back to normal.

Surgery choices

The type of epilepsy surgery depends on the location in the brain in which seizures start.

The most common surgery is anterior temporal lobectomy, which is the removal of part of one of the brain's temporal lobes. For many people with temporal lobe epilepsy, this surgery offers a very good chance of becoming seizure-free.

Some types of surgery are usually only done on children.

  • Corpus callosotomy helps some children who have Lennox-Gastaut syndrome by reducing falls that happen during seizures. These can happen often and often cause injury to the child.
  • Hemispherectomy during the first few years of life may benefit children with other uncommon, severe forms of epilepsy (such as Rasmussen syndrome or Sturge-Weber disease).
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 26, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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