Even though medicine is the most common approach to treating epilepsy, it does not always work. In almost one-third of people with epilepsy, medicine cannot control their seizures adequately (or at all, in some cases). This number is even higher in people with focal epilepsy. Surgery can greatly improve the lives of some people who have epilepsy.
You may be a good candidate for surgery if your seizures:
- Occur often enough to severely disrupt your life.
- Tend to result in injury or harm (for instance, if seizures cause frequent falls).
- Change or alter your consciousness.
- Are not controlled well with medicine, or you cannot tolerate the side effects of the medicines.
Having frequent or severe seizures often restricts you from Reference driving, doing certain kinds of work, and other activities. Medicine may fail to control these seizures. Or medicine may cause side effects severe enough to disrupt your lifestyle.
Surgery is not an "if all else fails" approach to treating epilepsy. It often may be a better choice than trying each and every medicine. For adults with temporal lobe epilepsy, for instance, surgery may be considered if two different first-line medicines are tried and neither controls the seizures adequately. For certain types of childhood epilepsy—disorders that children cannot outgrow and that do not respond to medicine—having surgery at the youngest possible age may offer the greatest benefit for the child. The younger brain is more adaptable and recovers better after surgery.
Epilepsy surgery removes an area of abnormal tissue in the brain, such as a tumor or scar tissue, or the specific area of brain tissue where seizures begin. Before surgery, you may have several tests (including an Reference electroencephalogram [EEG] Opens New Window, Reference magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] Opens New Window, and video monitoring) to find exactly where seizures begin in the brain. After the area of abnormal tissue where your seizures begin has been located, doctors can decide whether or not it can be removed safely.
Surgery is usually done in a hospital that is associated with an epilepsy center. The surgery usually takes a few hours, and you have to stay in the hospital for a few days afterward. It may be several months or more before you feel fully back to normal.
The type of epilepsy surgery depends on the location in the brain in which seizures start.
The most common surgery is Reference anterior temporal lobectomy, which is the removal of part of one of the brain's temporal lobes. For many people with temporal lobe epilepsy, this surgery offers a very good chance of becoming seizure-free.
Some types of surgery are usually only done on children.
- Reference Corpus callosotomy Opens New Window helps some children who have Lennox-Gastaut syndrome by reducing falls that happen during seizures. These can happen often and often cause injury to the child.
- Reference Hemispherectomy during the first few years of life may benefit children with other uncommon, severe forms of epilepsy (such as Rasmussen syndrome or Sturge-Weber disease).
What to think about
Surgery can be very effective for some people with epilepsy. But surgery is not an option for everyone. If you or your child has a type of epilepsy that might improve with surgical treatment, you may want to think about some of these issues:
- Surgery is not a last resort. It may be considered after unsuccessfully trying two medicines.
- Early surgery for some forms of childhood epilepsy may end seizures and prevent or reverse developmental delays. Children make good surgical candidates. They tend to recover quickly with fewer problems afterward.
- People who have temporal lobe epilepsy and whose seizures do not get better with medicines may be good candidates for surgery.
- Surgery is not always a cure for epilepsy. Some people never have seizures again after surgery. But for many others, surgery only reduces seizure frequency or severity.
- You need to be healthy to have the surgery and to benefit from it. People with severe illnesses, psychiatric disorders, or neurological problems other than epilepsy may need evaluations from more specialists to see if they are good candidates for epilepsy surgery.
- Epilepsy surgery involves removing part of your brain. It can affect your brain function, although the effects may be less bothersome than those caused by the epilepsy itself. Problems after surgery can be mild to severe—such as less energy, visual defects, language and memory problems, and weakness or partial paralysis on one side of the body—and may be temporary or permanent.
- Brain surgery is an expensive way to treat epilepsy and carries with it many risks. Even if medicine does not prevent your seizures, surgery may not be recommended if you only have seizures once in a while or do not have severe seizures.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 26, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Reference Steven C. Schachter, MD - Neurology