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Epilepsy

The Henry Ford Comprehensive Epilepsy Center is a nationally recognized program for the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy and seizure disorders in adults and children. Patients come from throughout the Midwest for the latest medicines, surgical treatments and advanced therapies, all conveniently located under one roof.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that causes unpredictable, recurrent seizures. A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that affects how a person appears or acts for a short time. However, not all seizures are the result of epilepsy. Our epilepsy team identifies the cause of seizures and creates personalized care plans to treat them.

Symptoms of epilepsy seizures

Seizures affect different people in different ways. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs. The type of symptoms a person has during a seizure depends on:

  • Where the abnormal electrical activity starts in the brain
  • Where it spreads to in the brain
  • How fast it spreads

Seizures are usually unpredictable, episodic (they come and go) and brief (lasting a few seconds to a few minutes). In most cases, a person with epilepsy will have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.

Some warning signs of possible seizures include:

  • Odd feelings, often indescribable
  • Unusual smells, tastes or feelings
  • Unusual experiences that patients may describe as “out-of-body” sensations
  • Feeling spacey or confused
  • Memory lapses
  • Daydreaming episodes
  • Jerking movements of an arm, leg or body
  • Falling
  • Tingling, numbness or feelings of electricity in part of the body
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained confusion, sleepiness or weakness
  • Losing control of urine or stool unexpectedly

Diagnosing epilepsy at Henry Ford Hospital

The medical and surgical directors at Henry Ford’s Epilepsy Center collaborate in the evaluation and treatment of epilepsy syndromes. During the diagnosis phase, our goal is to get an accurate epilepsy diagnosis, rule out other conditions and determine if you are candidate for surgery. We may perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG) to measure electrical activity of the brain.
  • Intracranial electrode recording and stimulation studies to see if you might be a candidate for alternative treatment methods.
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG), a technique for mapping brain activity through magnetic fields.
  • MR angiography to obtain images of blood vessels.
  • MR spectroscopy to measure biochemical changes in the brain.
  • MRI and/or functional MRI to get a detailed picture of your brain and body through magnetic waves.
  • Neuropsychological studies to understand how the structure of your brain affects processes and behaviors.
  • Position emission tomography (PET) to reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning.
  • Single photon emission computed tomography to examine blood flow and chemical reactions.
  • Wada testing to determine how surgery may affect your speech or memory.
  • Vision field testing to measure how much you can see out of the sides of your eyes.
  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography)/CT study, a special test to try to find an area of your brain that isn't functioning correctly.

After these tests, members of the epilepsy surgery program will meet to review your test results and discuss the best treatment for you. Your epilepsy team will include a number of physicians working together:

  • Neurologists
  • Neurosurgeons
  • Neuroradiologists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Speech therapists
  • Psychologists

What causes epilepsy?

Epilepsy affects about three million people nationwide. Epilepsy is more common among children, the elderly and individuals with intellectual disabilities. In many patients, doctors cannot determine the cause of their epilepsy.

  • As many as one-half of children with epilepsy may have the condition because of inherited genetic factors. Learn more about pediatric epilepsy care at Henry Ford.
  • In the elderly, strokes, head injuries or tumors may cause the epilepsy. Anything that can cause injury to the brain can be a factor.
  • About one of every three individuals with mental retardation has epilepsy.

Expert epilepsy treatment at Henry Ford Hospital

At Henry Ford’s Epilepsy Center, we are committed to helping you manage your epilepsy. Our goal is to stop seizures from occurring. We offer a wide variety of treatment options that include:

  • Medications: Anti-seizure medication can control most patients' seizures. Henry Ford participates in the newest anti-seizure medication trials and ongoing pharmaceutical drug trials for experimental and established medical therapies. Learn more about our epilepsy research.
  • Surgery: Doctors may recommend surgery to remove a small amount of brain tissue that might be causing your seizures. The Henry Ford team has the largest epilepsy surgical practice in the state of Michigan. Learn more about epilepsy surgery.
  • Neurostimulation therapies: When medication is not effective and surgical intervention is not an option, Henry Ford offers the latest, innovative neurostimulation epilepsy treatments, including vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). This treatment involves the surgical implantation of a medical device just beneath the collarbone that delivers electrical impulses to the vagus nerve to reduce seizures.