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Diagnosing Epilepsy: Behind The Scenes St. Clair Hospital

St. Clair Hospital uses modern technology to care for epilepsy patients. At St. Clair Hospital, we understand that the diagnosis we give a patient plays a vital role in their day-to-day routine. This is a responsibility that we take quite seriously, particularly when it comes to evaluating chronic conditions – such as epilepsy.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder, and it affects about 65 million people worldwide. This chronic disorder is best known for causing epileptic seizures. These seizures typically occur often, repeatedly, and – in many cases – without cause. And while some seizures only last a few seconds, others can last for a few minutes. As a result, different seizures affect patients in different ways.

“Depending on the type of seizure, some people could have a staring spell,” according to Kiran A. Patil, M.D., a neurologist at St. Clair Hospital, and an expert in treating epilepsy. “Other people who have an episode may shake or even lose awareness of what’s happening.”

Because seizures can lead to serious injury and harm, controlling and managing them as much as possible is crucial. Our job here at St. Clair is to identify who is suffering from epilepsy – and to help them find the right treatment to manage it.

The Challenge Of Diagnosing Epilepsy

Unlike outwardly obvious conditions – such as broken bones – epilepsy is a condition that cannot be evaluated with ordinary diagnostic tools. According to Dr. Patil, “There are many different types of seizures and epilepsies, each with its own treatment protocol.” So without proper evaluations, patients cannot be given health care options that will help them manage the specific symptoms created by their diagnosis.

For example, anti-seizure drugs can lessen the frequency and spread of seizures in the brain – but understanding the severity of a case of epilepsy is critical in prescribing proper dosages of medicine. And if epilepsy surgery is necessary, knowing the exact location of where the seizure originates is essential.

To obtain this information, doctors at St. Clair Hospital must get inside their patient’s brain in a safe, non-invasive way. They need to be able to see brain activity to determine if the patient is indeed having a seizure.

Diagnosing Epilepsy At St. Clair Hospital

To make this need a reality, St. Clair Hospital uses sophisticated video EEG (electroencephalography) monitoring. This non-invasive procedure can locate the region of the brain where seizures originate, making medical treatment more precisely targeted and successful.

Here’s how it works, according to Dr. Patil: “Video EEG monitoring allows us to record the electrical activity of the brain when a patient is having an episode.” To ensure that someone having an episode is in no danger, these tests are performed at the Hospital, where seizures can be safely monitored.

During a video EEG, small electrodes are placed on the patient’s head. These electrodes are then connected to a small portable box worn on the hip so EEG activity can be continuously recorded. It’s quite similar the more “routine” EEG procedure, which provides physicians a snapshot of brain activity during a short timeframe.

However, video EEG monitoring gives our doctors a more comprehensive picture of the brain’s activity. As the EEG records electrical activity in the brain, a camera delivers a live video stream of the patient to clinicians monitoring the patient in the EEG lab. Neurologists can compare the patient’s physical activity with their brain activity. Through this method, they can also tell if the seizure was related to the electrical activity in the brain.

If so, doctors know that they’ve witnessed an epileptic seizure – and not a seizure caused by another health issue.

“We can watch what happens to the patient clinically during the seizure, because different seizures have different clinical presentations,” says Dr. Patil. “In epilepsy, the neurons in the brain tend to be hyperexcitable. By video monitoring the patient and their brain activity, it helps us identify the type of seizure, as well as the exact location of the brain which is causing that seizure.”

Dr. Patil describes this testing option as both useful for doctors and beneficial for the patient – a definite win-win. By witnessing seizures firsthand, they can analyze the nature of the issue and make a treatment plan most likely to benefit the patient in St. Clair Hospital’s care. From there, many patients find themselves on the road to a safer, healthier life – all thanks to the power of modern day EEG monitoring.

Interested in learning more about epilepsy, our treatment technologies, or the stories of patients in our care who live with epilepsy? All of these information is available in the most recent edition of St. Clair Hospital’s HouseCall magazine. These issues are free to view, so go ahead and download your copy to keep reading!

About The Doctor: Kiran A. Patil, M.D specializes in neurology. He earned his medical degree at Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Medical College, India, completed his residency at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, (New York Medical College, Westchester County, New York) and an epilepsy fellowship at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn. Dr. Patil practices with Southwestern PA Neurology Associates. To contact Dr. Patil, please call 412.942.6323.