“Living with epilepsy is not easy,” said Dr. Juan Ochoa, associate professor of neurology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and medical director of the epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) at USA.

When you have epilepsy – a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures – one area of the network of neurons in the brain has an electrical short, and that area becomes dysfunctional.

“Patients either then start convulsing or they simply just disconnect and are unable to interact with their environment,” he said. “They often live in fear because they don’t know when they will have their next seizure.”

According to Dr. Ochoa, one-third of patients with epilepsy have persistent seizures despite medications. For those patients, early referral to an epilepsy center is crucial.

“The longer you have uncontrolled seizures, the worse your prognosis will be in terms of having a normal quality of life,” he said.

Typically, if you have tried more than two epileptic medications and are still having seizures, Dr. Ochoa said you should be referred to an epilepsy center. At the center, you will find out if you are a candidate for epilepsy surgery, an operation on the brain that can control seizures and ultimately improve quality of life.

In surgical candidates, the proper identification of a seizure focus is essential for optimal patient outcomes. “In treating patients, we must find the focus in the brain where the seizures originate and successfully remove the focus without causing undue brain damage,” he said.

The first step in treating someone with epilepsy surgery involves a pre-surgical evaluation, including a video and EEG monitoring at the epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) at the USA Medical Center. At the EMU, seizures are monitored over a period of days – allowing them to be localized.

“When patients have a seizure while being monitored at the EMU, we can see exactly what the patient is doing and what the brain is doing at the time of the seizure,” Dr. Ochoa said.

According to Dr. Ochoa, the EMU at the USA Medical Center is one of the few epilepsy centers in the country that uses source analysis software to help localize seizures. “I can create a three dimensional MRI brain localization that can show me exactly where the seizure is coming from,” he said. “This new technology helps me tremendously when considering the surgical procedure.”

Dr. Ochoa said about 72 percent of patients who have epilepsy surgery are seizure free for more than 10 years. In addition, if a patient doesn’t have a seizure for an entire year after the surgery, the chances that they will remain seizure free for 10 years would be up to 92 percent.

“This is absolutely wonderful and a dramatic improvement in someone’s life,” he said. “It makes a difference in someone becoming completely independent.”

Dr. Ochoa recently gave an overview of epilepsy at the February Med School Café lecture. To view the lecture in its entirety, click here.

The Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at the USA Medical Center is a collaborative environment that provides unique and highly specialized care with state-of-the-art technology for patients with epilepsy and other neurological conditions. It is the only comprehensive epilepsy program on the Gulf Coast. To learn more about the EMU, click here.

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