Monitoring technology pinpoints source of epileptic seizures

Vol 15. Issue 9, Leduc - Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer

EDMONTON — Faster diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy patients is now possible thanks to additional brain-monitoring technology and video equipment in Alberta Health Services’ Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the University of Alberta Hospital.

Nine sets of new EEG (electroencephalography) machines and video cameras were installed late last year at the Clinical Neurophysiology Lab. Epilepsy experts use the equipment to simultaneously monitor body movement and electrical activity in the brain during seizures, allowing the physicians to quickly pinpoint the source of the brain disorder, take action to correct it and restore quality of life to patients sooner.

The new equipment cost $450,000 and was fully funded by the University Hospital Foundation.

This investment allowed the lab to upgrade seven short-term exam rooms, where patients come for brief monitoring sessions. Previously, the lab had only two long-term exam rooms where patients who stay at hospital for one or two weeks could receive EEG-video monitoring.

Now, with the new equipment, access to this potentially life-changing technology is available to more patients.

Today, for anyone who comes into the lab, even for a 20-minute EEG, we video-record them,” says lab director Dr. Nizam Ahmed. “If we’re able to identify a seizure that happens during those 20 minutes, some of those patients may not need to come in for a longer admission to the hospital. You save hospital beds. You cut down the waiting lists. And you provide answers to these patients in a much more expedited way.”

Epilepsy affects about 17,000 Albertans. It occurs when cerebral nerve cells fire electrical impulses faster than normal, resulting in seizures characterized by sudden recurring attacks of motor, sensory or psychic malfunction, with or without convulsion or loss of consciousness. Seizures can take on many different forms and affect different people in different ways.

Combining video monitoring of body activity during seizures with EEG tracings of brain activity is often the shortest path to the correct diagnosis, says Dr. Ahmed. It can also rule out a diagnosis of epilepsy for patients who suffer from blackouts due to other medical problems, such as irregular heartbeat or low blood sugar.

Epilepsy has a huge impact on patients’ lives,” says Dr. Ahmed. “We need to identify what’s generating the seizures. Once you know with certainty, there’s a 60 to 70 per cent chance that you can render the person seizure-free versus a 10 per cent chance if you simply continue with medication. When someone finally gets the right diagnosis, it changes lives.”

After EEG/video diagnosis, Edmonton patient George Holmes, 45, went on to brain surgery last May after a lifetime of epilepsy left him with low self-esteem and jobless.

I was homebound. I was always afraid if I had a seizure, somebody would think I was on drugs or something,” says Holmes.

Now I can go out without even worrying about having a friend with me. I can do my shopping. I now have a job that’s permanent. I’m not afraid to take a trip on the bus. I would tell people who are having the same problem I had to go for it. Soon you’ll be able to get out and enjoy the rest of your life.”

Known causes of epilepsy include head injuries, brain tumours, lead poisoning, malformation of the brain, and genetic and infectious illnesses.

Medication helps to control seizures for most patients, while surgery to remove or subdue the seizure-generating part of the brain is an option for others.

“With the support of the University Hospital Foundation through its Festival of Trees and the excellent state-of-the-art equipment we now have, I believe Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta Hospital are giving great service and care to our epilepsy patients,” says Dr. Ahmed.

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