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What Is Epilepsy?

Misfiring nerve cells in the brain can result in seizures. Epilepsy is a brain disorder marked by recurring (more than one) seizures.

At Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Neuroscience Institute, our team of epilepsy specialists uses sophisticated diagnostic tests to determine what is causing your seizures. We then work with you to find the therapies that best manage your symptoms so you can focus on enjoying life.

Epilepsy symptoms

Sometimes epilepsy is caused by a medical condition, such as a traumatic brain injury. Other times, the cause is unknown.

People experience seizures differently. Common symptoms include:

  • Staring blankly
  • Twitching or jerking movements that you can’t control
  • Violent muscle spasms
  • Confusion or anxiety
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

Diagnosing epilepsy

Our specialists have many years of experience caring for patients with epilepsy. We consider your medical history and any life experiences that may put you at higher risk for epilepsy, such as illegal substance use or repeated head injuries from sports. After a thorough physical examination, your physician may recommend one or more tests, including:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test measures your brain’s electrical activity, using tiny electrodes attached to your head.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Physicians may use this advanced imaging test, which produces detailed images of internal structures, to look for other causes of your symptoms.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET): This imaging test tells physicians how the brain metabolizes glucose, helping pinpoint areas that are not working properly.
  • Neuropsychological testing: Memory and other cognitive tests can help physicians determine which part of the brain may be causing your symptoms. These tests can also flag emotional difficulties, such as anxiety, that we can address to improve your quality of life.

If your seizures persist after trying multiple treatments, your physician may ask you to undergo advanced testing in our Epilepsy Monitoring Unit so we can learn more about your symptoms. At this unit, located at Allegheny General Hospital, you receive care from dedicated nurses and doctors who are trained in epilepsy.

We use sophisticated technology, such as EEG and video EEG, to record as much detail as possible about your seizures, in a safe and controlled environment. You may stay in this unit for two to five days, in a private, comfortable room that has a flat-screen TV and other accommodations.

Get comprehensive epilepsy treatment at Allegheny Health Network

We use the latest treatments, which may include medication, surgery, or both. Your care team will tailor a treatment plan that addresses your needs. Our goal is to find therapies that manage your symptoms and maximize your quality of life.

We may recommend one or more of these treatments:

Medication

Medications effectively control seizures for two-thirds of people with epilepsy. Your physician will work closely with you to determine the right medication and dosage for you.

We participate in multiple research efforts that pursue new treatments for epilepsy. We can offer our patients the latest treatments, such as new medications, before they are widely available.

Surgery

Our fellowship-trained surgeons have expertise in performing intricate surgical procedures to treat patients whose symptoms are not controlled with medications. Our advanced testing helps us understand which part of the brain causes your seizures, so we can choose a surgical approach that is more likely to be effective.

Surgical treatment options include:

  • Brain resection: Surgeons use advanced techniques to safely remove a small part of the brain tissue that is causing your seizures.
  • Neuromodulation: A physician surgically implants a small electrical device into the body. The device aims to override the electrical currents causing the seizures. We offer:
    • Vagus nerve stimulation: We implant a device (similar to a pacemaker) under the skin by the clavicle. Our team has decades of experience performing this procedure, which is highly effective for certain patients.
    • NeuroPace: This new form of neuromodulation is also called responsive neurostimulation. We perform sophisticated tests to determine which part of your brain causes seizures. We then implant a small device with electrodes near that brain tissue. When electrodes pick up a potential seizure, they discharge an electrical current to stop a seizure from happening.

Contact us

Call (412) 359-8850 or request an appointment to learn more about AHN epilepsy services.

AHN Comprehensive Epilepsy Center
Allegheny General Hospital
320 East North Ave.
Suite 206
Pittsburgh, PA 15212