New technologies allow neurologists to treat epilepsy with less invasive surgeries than ever before. Innovations like wearable devices and mobile apps make it possible for people to manage their condition on the go. They can also keep their doctors updated on their health in real time.
Here are some of the most exciting new developments and technological advances in the world of epilepsy treatment today.
Stereo-electroencephalography (SEEG) is a new presurgical procedure for epilepsy. It involves implanting extremely thin wires called “depth electrodes” into the brain through tiny openings in the skull.
These depth electrodes are used to monitor electrical activity in the brain. They pinpoint the exact location in the brain where the seizures start.
This cutting-edge technique allows neurologists to monitor and treat epilepsy with greater precision. They can also minimize the post-operative pain and discomfort that can accompany larger, more invasive presurgical evaluations.
Laser ablation is another new first-line treatment option for epilepsy. It involves drilling a needle-size hole into the skull. Then a tiny, laser-tipped catheter is passed into the part of the brain responsible for the seizures.
The catheter uses heated laser energy and a technology called magnetic resonance thermography to create real-time temperature maps of the brain. These help neurologists precisely target the problem areas for treatment or surgery.
Laser ablation is much less invasive than methods that require a craniotomy. And the recovery period is quite short, usually requiring only a night or two in the hospital.
Neurostimulation is a form of epilepsy treatment that uses pulse-generating devices to stimulate nerves and send electrical energy to the brain. The two main types of neurostimulation are vagus nerve stimulation and brain-responsive neurostimulation.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)
Vagus nerve stimulation works by implanting a small device under the skin of a person’s chest. It sends electrical energy to the brain through the vagus nerve, one of the cranial nerve pairs connected to motor and sensory functions.
The device’s settings are programmed by a neurologist to stimulate a person’s vagus nerve periodically throughout the day. They are also given a magnetic bracelet that they can use to provide manual stimulation if they feel as though a seizure is coming on.
VNS can’t prevent seizures entirely, but it’s been shown to significantly lower their frequency and intensity.
Brain-responsive neurostimulation (RNS)
Brain-responsive neurostimulation is an FDA-approved neurostimulation technique. It’s more invasive than VNS, but it provides additional benefits.
Electrodes are placed directly on the brain where doctors believe the seizures originate. This allows the device to detect when a seizure is happening and give immediate stimulation to the area.
Another advantage of RNS is that it can be used as a recording device for extended periods of time. This provides useful data to the person’s doctor. The long-term outlook of RNS is slightly higher than VNS, with the potential to reduce seizures by up to 60 percent.
There is a wide range of high-tech seizure alert devices that can instantly inform family members or doctors when someone is having a seizure.
These devices won’t completely prevent the possibility of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). However, they can help people with epilepsy get assistance more quickly, especially if their seizures occur while they’re sleeping.
There are four main types of seizure alert devices:
Mattress devices: These are typically placed underneath a mattress to detect vibrations created by seizure-like movements.
Watch devices: Wristwatch-like devices containing accelerometers and GPS will send a smartphone or email alert when the wearer is having a seizure.
Camera devices: Infrared cameras are used to record audio and video data. The data is then analyzed by a smartphone app to detect any seizure-like activity.
Motion devices: Body monitors track physical movements like intense shaking to record sounds and detect whether a seizure is taking place.
Another innovation is the influx of smartphone apps now available to help people with epilepsy monitor their condition.
Apps like My Epilepsy Diary, created by the non-profit organization The Epilepsy Therapy Project (ETP), allow users to easily track and report their seizures to their families and doctors in real time.
Users can also record side effects and personal events related to their condition. They can also set up text or email reminders to take their medications.
SmartWatch Inspyre is another new app that works in conjunction with the Apple Watch to analyze the wearer’s movements and identify when they’re having a seizure. It then sends out alerts to family members and caregivers so that they can help the wearer sooner.
A new version is currently in development that will monitor the wearer’s sleep to provide further protection against SUDEP.
All these new technologies and developments in epilepsy research are encouraging for the millions of Americans currently living with epilepsy — and this is only the beginning. There’s no cure for epilepsy, but science is progressing at an exponential rate.
If you think that any of these treatment options might be right for you, consult your doctor for more information.