What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological condition involving the brain that makes people more susceptible to having recurrent unprovoked seizures. A seizure occurs when abnormal electrical activity occurs in the brain that temporarily interrupts normal brain function.
The likelihood of a seizure can be increased by conditions such as a high fever, low blood sugar, high blood sugar, alcohol, drug intoxication or drug withdrawal, or electrolyte abnormalities. However, when a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, he or she is considered to have epilepsy.
There are many possible causes, including tumors, strokes, head trauma, neuro-degenerative disease, and brain damage from illness. On a cellular (microscopic level) seizures are caused by an imbalance of neuro-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters in turn affecting electrical activity in the brain. Seizure-like episodes may also be related to a previous traumatic event or psychiatric illness.
Types of Seizures
The type of seizure and what particular symptoms a patient experiences depend on which part, and how much of the brain is affected and what happens during the seizure. An individual may have more than one type of seizure and the length may vary. Two broad categories of seizures are partial and generalized. Within these categories there are several different types.
General symptoms and signs of a seizure may include one or a combination of staring, jerking/shaking movements of the arms and legs, stiffening of the body, loss of consciousness, breathing problems, loss of bowel or bladder control, speech difficulties, not responding to noise or words, appearing confused or in a daze, rapid eye blinking, or other sensory and behavior abnormalities.
Sometimes there are minimal to no external signs (sub-clinical seizure). These can be detected by video electroencephalogram (vEEG). Some, but not all, have a preceding warning (aura). After a seizure a patient may be sleepy, confused, or agitated. Also, they may experience temporary paralysis or speech difficulty.
About the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit
The purpose of long-term or continuous vEEG monitoring is to detect and record seizures to help your epileptologist or neurologist determine the type of seizure(s) you have, where they begin, and which areas of the brain they affect. Equally as important, this study helps determine if some of the symptoms/episodes you are experiencing are epileptic in origin. In turn, information from your monitoring study can also help your doctor determine if adjustments to your anti-seizure medications are needed and ways in which to optimize your treatment plan.
Each private room has a video camera with a microphone and special EEG equipment that records your brain’s electrical activity and any changes in your behavior. The equipment we use is essentially the same as your physician may already have used for a routine (20- to 30- minute) EEG test. The key differences are than an EMU study is conducted over several days using continuous 24-hour audio and video recording, and your antiepileptic drugs may be adjusted or other stressors (such as light, sound, sleep deprivation) used in order to capture seizure(s)/or seizure like events.
On average, patients stay in the EMU for five to seven days. During this time, a team of physicians, registered nurses and EEG technologists will care for you, monitor your seizures and ensure your safety.