500 Ray C. Hunt Drive First Floor

Charlottesville, VA 22903

Mail address:

P.O. Box 800659

UVA Health Center

Charlottesville, VA 22908

e-mail: srb3m@virginia.edu


Ask a Doctor

We welcome Dr. Russell Bailey, pediatric epileptologist, who will be answering your questions


I was amazed to see a parent asking the same question that has been haunting me for months, and I was very interested in reading your answer. My daughter, 8 years old, is also taking Lamictal and we have definitely seen lack of focus in school and at home, which wasn't happening before her taking Lamictal. She gets excellent scores in all tests (reading, writing, math, etc.), but her lack of focus makes it hard for her to understand more complex assignments, e.g. complex math assignments, recall details (unless prompted) of a story, or recall all the steps in multiple step directions, etc.

 I now have a follow-up question which I would love to hear your thoughts on:

 The Special Education teacher at my daughter's school is now working on an IEP program for my daughter. If indeed (and my "gut feeling" has always been that this was the case) the medicine is causing the lack of focus, shouldn't we establish as the primary goal for the IEP program that she (and the teachers) learn how to live, and learn, with this lack of focus (while ACCEPTING the fact that she has a lack of focus)? Versus: fighting the lack of focus and setting as a goal that she will overcome the lack of focus and learn how to focus better.

 As long as we are "sending" these chemicals to her brain with the medicine, it would seem to me that she will never be able to learn how to focus better - or do you think there is a way to "fight" those chemicals in her brain?

 I very much appreciate your thoughts on this.

Thank you for this excellent question, one that I suspect many parents struggle with.  Most antiseizure medications are well tolerated, and of course our goal is complete seizure control with no side effects.  However, each child is different, and so we must monitor each child’s response to a particular medication closely as you are doing.  In this case, if the lack of focus clearly emerged after starting the Lamictal, then this could be a side effect of the medication.  However, some children experience similar difficulties that accompany their epilepsy, making it difficult to tease out what is related to the medication and what is related to a child’s epilepsy.  Again, you ask a very relevant question, and it sounds as if you are doing what is best for her by establishing an IEP.  We would suggest further that you speak with your neurologist as he or she knows the detail of your daughter’s history, and may consider transitioning her to a new antiseizure medication if safe and appropriate.  Thank you again for your excellent question.

My daughter is 8 yrs. old, she started having seizures almost two years ago. Her seizures usually happen only in the morning times. She is unconscious but aware of some of her surroundings during a seizure. It usually takes her 40-45 min to come to. She has the usual muscle stiffening, locked jaw, rapid eye movement. We're at a standstill right now. She's currently on Keppra daily and she's up to having 2-3 seizures a week in school. She has been to a couple neurologist here in Virginia. I'm really concerned about her care and trying to go further. If you could please help me with some sort of information about your Foundation I'd appreciate that a lot. I am trying to see where or what we should do next.

Thank you.

Thank you for reaching out to us as we suspect there are many parents out there with similar concerns.  We understand your concerns, and share them.  At this point, we would recommend you contact the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, and request they assist you in locating a pediatric epileptologist for you to see.  An epileptologist is a neurologist who specializes in treating patients with epilepsy, and more specifically a pediatric epileptologist specializes in the care of children with epilepsy.  From what you have told us, your daughter’s seizures have been difficult to control, and in such instances a pediatric epileptologist may be able to assist you further.  You can reach the EFVA by going to www.efva.org.  Again, thank you for sharing your concerns with us.

Hello my name is Lisa my mother is 67 years and developed aura related selected memory loss over the last couple of years I have temporal lobe epilepsy catamenial for the last 12 years i am now 43 its questioned that a contraceptive injection may have triggered it. My medication lamictal controls this thankfully. The reason why I questioned the doctor regarding my mother’s auras déjà vue type feelings is because it’s what I have experienced over the years I have also had grand mal seizures mainly in my sleep which my mother has also experienced we know of two her doctor and neurologist both said for the last two years that her auras were stress,anxiety,panic attacks as she was worried about her memory she was sent for memory tests and she was fine  the only reason they eventually agreed to do an EEG was because I brought up the epilepsy being exactly like mine her tests both  awake and sleep were okay the MRI showed nothing wrong apart from the age related white cells so she was told to take an aspirin once a day nothing more was going to be done. The main seizure my father found her unconscious at the side of the bed early morning called the ambulance and it took a while to bring her round she was then confused she refused to go to the hospital when she did come round had headache and felt sick, I  took her to see the gp which she just about agreed to she has been in total denial the other one she woke up in the morning and had obviously bashed her face from what we can assume on the lamp from a grand mal  I took photos and showed the neurologist who still didn't agree totally but agreed to put her on lamictal which has worked no grand mal since but the occasional auras still. We saw him again about 6 months ago for a checkup but my concern was for the selective memory loss which drives her mad as you can imagine she is perfectly fine every day basis an intelligent woman I have been checking on the Internet and found lots of information one lady in particular who describes herself exactly the same as my mum I printed this information to take with us as the neurologist had said that my mums memory had nothing to do with her epilepsy I have been battling my mum and the neurologist for 12 months when I got involved after nothing was being done to help, my mum wouldn't accept she has epilepsy until she had a diagnosis to say this but with the tests all being okay it's taken till  appointment six months ago  for him to assume it might be when my mother read the information from the lady she could then tell him how she felt he then agreed slightly apprehensive that he knew of this why had he not mentioned it? my mum doesn't drive so there is no problem with losing her license. I can't understand why the neurologist has not wanted to help really,  we had an appointment on sun 30th June 2013 and she explained that she was feeling dizzy frequently had an odd headache her eyes are always heavy bit pressure on the back of her head and wanted to know if this was related to her medication he just said that it was anxiety told her to stay on same medication he has prescribed and come back in six months! I'm sure the auras  have with each one taken some of her memories and this will continue if she is not on the correct medication I'm worried that maybe she is having more  just goes prior to sleep which is the main time when she has had them but doesn't realize if she has gone straight to sleep she also has extremely vivid dreams/nightmares should we follow up on finding out more about the treatment of memory related epilepsy?  my birthday was may 21st and since her last aura she doesn't remember properly what we did she explained this to the neurologist but he said again anxiety why?  I'm sorry this is rather a long back ground of information but it’s the only time I have questioned anything publicly and if anyone else finds it so difficult to get epilepsy even suggested from some neurologists  my  gp seemed a lot more helpful and checked information on the Internet to help, can the memory come back? And are there neurologists that actually have this type of epilepsy in their knowledge, she has since got high blood pressure the last couple times been checked so is having the box on this week! thank you Lisa

 

Thank you for reaching out to us, and we share your concerns.  Unfortunately, epilepsy can be difficult to diagnose as it can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and seizure types can vary greatly.  We suggest you contact your local chapter of the International League Against Epilepsy who may be able to better advise you.  Your mother may benefit from seeing an epileptologist who can delve further into the details of her history, and proceed with the appropriate next steps.  An epileptologist is a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of patients with epilepsy.   Thank you again for reaching out to us. 

Send your question about epilepsy.

The questions below have been answered by epileptologist Dr. Nathan B. Fountain, Director of the FED Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  He is also the President of the Professional Advisory Board.

My son is currently taking Lamictal for his seizures. My wife and I were wondering if his often lack of focus in school might be due to the medicine. Thank you Al Ten Midlothian, Va

Seizure medications, and especially Lamictal, do not usually affect thinking. Most children tolerate them very well without any affect on their school work, personality, memory or thinking. However, some children do have problems either because the particular medication does not agree with them or the dose is too high. All seizure medications, including Lamictal, can occasionally cause a loss of focus through their subtle effects on thinking. They can cause inattention, drowsiness, memory difficulties or difficulty concentrating. There is no simple way to figure out whether the medication is contributing to his lack of focus. If he was a good student and focused until Lamictal was started, then it is more likely that it is the drug. If he had lack of focus prior to starting the medication then it is probably not the medication. A common problem is that the medication started when the seizures started. Thus, you don't know if the change is from the medication, the affects of the seizures on the brain (which is usually minimal) or the social of psychological effects of having seizures. This is best sorted out with your neurologist. >>>>>>>>>>

In your opinion, what future research could be done to find out what causes the neurons to seize? If only we knew what made the neurons start doing this… Do some of these studies pose ethical problems? Submitted by Laurie, mother of a ten year old girl with partial seizures with secondary generalization, currently controlled by medication.

This insightful question has been poised by all who study epilepsy. There are many researchers studying this exact problem. We actually know quite a bit about what happens when neurons seize based on contemporary neuroscience research. The main problem now is figuring out why the neuron seizes at one moment and not another. Nevertheless, there are a few "designer drugs" available now that were developed to interfere with the processes that cause seizures, such as tiagabine (Gabitril), and pregabalin (Lyrica). Fortunately, this research does not commonly pose ethical problems because there are many animal models of seizures. Clinical research (using humans) is usually done as part of the care of patients with epilepsy. For example, we currently are studying 3 new drugs and 2 new devices for epilepsy at UVA. Many patients volunteer for the studies because it has some chance of helping them and because the results allow us to help others. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Is there any evidence that the Atkins diet can stop seizures? Gina

The Atkins diet has not been studied systematically. However, in a Johns Hopkins open-label study of 20 children put on the Atkins diet about 2/3 had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency. It has a risk of high fat content and therefore a high cholesterol content (it significantly elevated the cholesterol in the above noted study). The health risks for children who may need to remain on it for a long time are not known but seem substantial. On the other hand, it is simple to administer and should be considered in people who don't respond to medications. The ketogenic diet is effective in reducing the frequency of seizures, but has not been studied in a way that allows it to be compared with medications. It is somewhat difficult for parents and physicians to administer. However, it is also a good option for people with epilepsy who do not respond to medications. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Are there any "seizure belts" like there are "kidney stone belts?" For example, the southeast has a higher rate of kidney stones than other places. Submitted by Laurie Kelly, mom of 10 year old girl with epilepsy.

No. Epilepsy is evenly distributed around the country. However, the incidence is higher in developing countries due to higher rates of brain infections and trauma. Overall, about 10% of people will have a seizure at some time in their life. Only 3% will have recurrent seizures and thus epilepsy. Finally, it remits in about 2/3 of people, so that only about 1% of the US population has epilepsy at any one moment in time.

General Questions

What about Las Vegas?
Seizure-range connection?
How can epilepsy move from one side to the other?

Women's Issues

How serious is a high prolactin level?

Treatment Options

Atkins Diet?

Children's Issues

Helping daughter be independent post-diagnosis
Can drugs hamper child development?


General Questions

What about Las Vegas?

Question: We need a sponsor like yours here in Las Vegas.. How and who helped you? We have nobody and we are despair. Thank You GOD Bless YOU!
Answer: (EFVA) Dania Alvarez has a support group in Las Vegas. She can be contacted at danobos@cox.net.

Seizure-rage connection?

Question: Some times my son goes into a rage. Is that a seizure and how can I control it?
Answer: (Dr. Strunc) Emotional lability, rage attacks, and changes in personality can all be manifestations of a seizure. These rages that occur could also be the after effects, that is the post-ictal (post seizure) changes. History is everything, almost, when diagnosing seizures. What occurs before the rage episode? Are these triggered by his being upset or angry? How long do they last? Can you interrupt them, or stop him during one of these attacks? Most seizures are not provoked, cannot be interrupted, and are often followed by a period of fatigue. If this seems to be the case for your son, they may well be seizures. I would recommend that you talk with your son's neurologist about these episodes. One way to get to the bottom of this is to have your son admitted to a video-eeg unit. A prolonged eeg that captures one of his spells would be very helpful in sorting out seizures as a possible cause of his rage attacks. If they are seizures, medication is likely to help control them. Good luck with your son.

How can epilepsy move from one side to the other?

Question: I have a 5 year old who has been having seizures since he was 10 months old. They have tried just about every medication and nothing seems to keep the seizures under control. He currently is on 60 mg a day of Phenobarb, 250 mg a day of Topomax and 100 mg a day of Lamactal. Once he starts running a temp of 99 he always breaks through his meds. When he first started having seizures all tests indicated that the seizures were coming from the left side of his brain. In the past couple of months we have doing LTM to see if he is a candidate for the VNS or brain surgery. The last test was 2 weeks ago and that was the ictal scept. The epilepsy team said without looking at the all the test results together that the 75% of the seizures were now coming from the right side of his brain and the other 25% they don't know where they are coming from and the left shows abnormalities. They said it now looks like he is having bilateral seizures. I still haven't heard back from the epilepsy team but my questions are these. Why would the seizures move to a different side of the brain and if they are bilateral what would be the chance of them removing the part that is showing more seizure activity? He has tonic clonic generaliazed seizures. He desats when he seizes and what used to take only a couple of days to get the seizures back under control in now taking pretty close to 2 weeks.
Answer: (Dr. Strunc): I can understand your frustration and questions. How can epilepsy change from one side to the other, or both? How come seizures get worse over time, and are harder to control? Your questions are excellent, but the answers are vague at best. We do not know why epilepsy evolves over time in some patients, while in others it is simply outgrown. Your son has had excellent care and an extremely thorough evaluation by the text of your questions. Epilepsy surgery is an option that can be miraculous, in the right patient. Success in "cure" for temporal lobe epilepsy patients can be as high as 70-90%. This success is not equaled in any other group. Non-lesional epilepsy, that is when we cannot actually see the brain abnormality causing seizures, is remarkably less successful. When you have multifocal epilepsy, seizures originating from multiple areas of the brain, the odds are very much against surgical success. This does not mean your son is not a surgical candidate. That decision must be made with the team you are working with, and you. I would encourage you to discuss this with your team, and to get a best estimate from them regarding the possibility of significant improvement with surgery. If he is not a candidate for surgery, the vagal nerve stimulator is an option. This device can dramatically improve seizure control in patients. Good luck with your son.


Women's Issues

How serious is a high prolactin level?

Question: My daughter was a patient of Dr. Driefus' many years ago when she just turned 12 (started her periods) and was diagnosed with epilepsy. She is now grown and has health insurance with a large well known HMO. HMO has run tests and her Prolactin level is high. Her current doctors at the HMO act like they do not know what to do or they don't know what Prolactin is, and they are not discussing it or treating it or advising her. My question is how serious is a high Prolactin level and how will it impact on your body and life style? How should it be treated, is my daughter in danger? Will you direct me to any information that is available?
Answer: (Dr. Strunc) This is a question for a child endocrinologist. Prolactin is a hormone secreted by the anterior pituitary. Elevated prolactin levels can be seen acutely after a seizure, and can be used to determine if someone has had a seizure. Chronically elevated levels of prolactin would cause concern about a pituitary tumor known as a pituitary adenoma. The symptoms could be headaches, visual changes, hormonal changes, or precocious puberty. This needs to be reviewed by a pediatric endocrinologist and I would have your HMO doctor set up a referral to see one. Prolactin levels also vary by sex, and age. This needs to be factored in when looking at the prolactin level. Regardless, I cannot give you guidance beyond suggesting your daughter sees the proper specialist. I am unaware of any danger to health posed by elevated prolactin levels.


Treatment Options

Atkins Diet?

Question: How are the results from recent studies with the Atkins diet for epilepsy?
Answer: (Dr. Strunc) The results so far are encouraging, but mixed. A number of case reports have demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in seizures while on the Atkins diet. This therapy is modeled on the ketogenic diet, whereby a high fat, low carbohydrate diet causes the body to make and use ketones for energy. The brain can only use ketones and glucose for energy. How this causes seizures to be controlled, or lessened is still not understood. There are a number of studies that are ongoing to look specifically at your question. Can a "modified" ketogenic diet help control epilepsy? Your neurologist can help sort out where we are with this research. For now, the jury is out, but it looks like some patients may benefit from this treatment option. You can review one article that looked at the diet in several patients in the journal Neurology 2003:61: pages 1789-1791. I hope for the best for you and your child.


Children's Issues

Helping daughter be independent post-diagnosis

Question: My daughter is 9; she was diagnosed at 7. She is very moody and her short-term memory is really bad. She is taking Topamax. She is very clingy every since she was diagnosed with epilepsy. How can I get her to be not so clingy? I love her very much, but I also want her to have her independence. Thank you and God bless you and your work.
Answer: (Dr. Strunc) Changes in mood, attention, ability to sit in school and learn: all of these are common in children diagnosed with epilepsy. The medications we use, by their very nature, affect how brains work. The goal of all pediatric neurologists is to have their epilepsy patients seizure free, and side effect free. Time often mellows the side effects, but the appropriate dose, and timing can also be critical for patients. Each medication that is available has common as well as rare side effects. I would encourage you to read up on each, and discuss the options with your child neurologist. Communication can often be sacrificed in the hectic, fast-paced office visit. It is important to address the side effects you see, as well as the benefits, with your daughter's doctor. Remember, each child is different, and unique. Some children are clingy, regardless. Some kids are hyperactive, tired, easily angered, sad, etc. You need to try to sort out medication effects, from the person taking the medicine. If you find "clingy" is your daughter on medication, and she is not when off the medication, well, maybe another medication would be better. Lastly, there is no free lunch. Any time we change medication for our patients, we risk failure due to side effects, toxicity, or failure to stop seizures. Make these decisions carefully in concert with a neurologist you trust. I wish you the best of luck and God bless your family.

Can drugs hamper child development?

Question: Could anti seizure drug hamper development? My 4-year-old, diagnosed in infancy, is on Depakote and seems slow.
Answer: (Dr. Strunc): There is no good evidence that the medications we use actually cause children to have developmental delays. Many children on medication are sedated, slow, or just moody. The medications we use can all cause this. I have had many kids come off of medication, and immediately "wake up" as if from a dream. Parents often see what we do not, the less obvious dulling of a young child's personality. While the medications do not cause delays, they can cause these changes. If a child is sleepy, tired, slow to respond, cranky, etc. how well will they learn in school? Good questions, with pretty weak answers. We are left with the goal we all have: no seizures, and no side effects. Depakote is a very effective medicine against seizures. Like all the medications we use, it has side effects. If your child seems slow on depakote, perhaps another drug would be better. This is the dilemma for all the medications. None of the medications is perfect. What you need is the right medication for your child. That needs to be decided by you, with your child neurologist. Talk with her/him about the options you have, the side effects of each option, and go from there. I wish you the best of luck with your child.