Doctors to answer questions on epilepsy, seizures

Published: Thursday, Nov. 8 2012 10:00 p.m. MST

Nurse practitioner Jody Anderson at Intermountain Medical Center's Epilepsy Clinic in Murray on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It can come without warning, beginning with a feeling of déjà vu or even dizziness. It usually ends after 30 to 90 seconds of mind-numbing and sometimes exhausting convulsions, and the victim rarely remembers a thing.

A seizure can be a frightening experience for the person having it or for onlookers. There are even statewide laws prohibiting anyone who has seizures within a three-month period from driving or operating heavy machinery.

But knowing what to do and learning to manage recurring convulsions can help make life easier and more fulfilling for everyone.

"A lot of people are scared," said Dr. Jeffrey Bigelow, a neurologist at Intermountain Medical Center's Epilepsy Clinic. "It's a period of time where they can lose control. They become anxious and nervous to have another one, and they live in the fear of it.

"Treating it and not having to deal with the fear can bring back someone's confidence," he said.

Bigelow is a trained epileptologist and often visits Haiti and various countries in Africa to offer epilepsy patients there a low-cost treatment for their recurring seizures and a better quality of life.

"Epilepsy is more common than people think, and it is treatable," he said.

Bigelow estimates that up to 50,000 Utahns, 1 percent to 2 percent of the population, have epilepsy. And up to 10 percent of all Americans will suffer at least one seizure during their lives.

Bigelow and Jody Anderson, a nurse practitioner at the clinic, will be featured on Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline, where they will take questions about epilepsy, seizures and other neurological problems. From 10 a.m. to noon, anyone interested is welcome to call 800-925-8177 or post questions on the Deseret News Facebook page.

Seizures can fall into multiple categories, including grand mal, mild confusion and petite mal seizures. Anderson said a patient may know they suffered a seizure because of an experienced loss of time or an observer's report of the occurrence of strange behaviors.

"They're not just the big, convulsive seizures people see on TV," she said, adding that moments of confusion or periods where a person is unaware of their actions can also be seizures.

"Recurrent seizures can limit a person's ability to drive, work, (and) they sometimes don't want to be out in public. It's a difficult thing for people to live with," Anderson said.

The abnormal electrical signals in the brain that lead to seizures can be frequent, can occur less than once a year or across several years, and they can happen at any age. Most often they peak during child and teenage years and later in life.

Episodes can be brought on by low blood sugar or other electrolyte imbalances, a brain tumor, alcohol withdrawal or as a side effect of stopping certain drugs — effects that are not necessarily clear provokers.

An epilepsy diagnosis results when a person has more than two unprovoked seizures, or seizures that happen because of some scarring on the brain, Bigelow said.

"It is hard to describe what they feel, but some will tell you, 'I feel like I was hit by a bus,'" he said.

It can take some individuals an entire day to recover from a single seizure.

Coming Saturday: Testing, treatment and management of epilepsy.

* * *

Hotline Saturday

The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline focuses on epilepsy, seizures and other neurological problems. From 10 a.m. to noon, Dr. Jeffrey Bigelow, a neurologist and epileptologist at Intermountain Medical Center's Epilepsy Clinic, and Jody Anderson, a nurse practitioner at the clinic, will answer questions from the public. Anyone with questions can call 800-925-8177 or post a comment during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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