The most common neurological disorder among Americans is epilepsy, which affects around one in every 100 people—with another 200,000 added annually. People with epilepsy suffer periodic seizures, episodes of abnormally high brain activity which can last from minutes to hours. The severity of the condition ranges from a minor issue for some people all the way up to a disabling illness.
There is no cure for epilepsy In almost three-fourths of cases, the disease can be controlled with anti-convulsant medication, though the medication must be maintained to continue to be effective—there’s no point at which a patient who hasn’t had problems with epilepsy or a while can simply go off the medication. Anti-convulsants have noticeable side effects in as many as 90 percent of people who use them. When epileptic seizures are caused by activity in just a small, discrete section of the brain that isn’t responsible for a vital function, that portion of tissue will sometimes be surgically removed.
Now advances in technology are making possible less dangerous and difficult treatments. On approach, called responsive neurostimulation, uses implants in the brain that stop seizures before they happen by detecting the associated electrical activity. When this happens, the implant can respond with low doses of anti-seizure medication or with electrical impulses that counter the seizure. When this system works as intended, the patient may not even notice the seizure before it is stopped. Some types of implant can even collect data on brain activity that can be used to measure progress, update the prognosis, and fine-tune the treatment.
Other forms of technology can aid in management, without necessarily treating epilepsy directly. A recently developed smartphone app can help health care professionals diagnose an epileptic seizure. It presents a checklist of signs to look for in order to facilitate appropriate emergency treatment being administered. Computer models can also help doctors and other health care workers. One factor that tends to exacerbate the effects of seizures is that they can be hard to predict. The ability to know in advance when one is coming can help free patients from being tethered to this risk by giving them plenty of time to get to a safe place.