In early 2018, neurologists from the University of California- San Francisco, released a report in which they documented their findings in an epilepsy study. In the report, the scientists suggest that "it may soon be possible for clinicians to identify when patients are at highest risk for seizures, allowing patients to plan around these brief but potentially dangerous events."
Clearly that represents an amazing advancement in the treatment of the condition. After all, and as the author of the study said, "One of the most disabling aspects of having epilepsy is the seeming randomness of seizures" If you have the condition, or a loved one lives with it, you would agree that it is that unpredictability of it that makes it so difficult and challenging. Parents sending their kids off to school worry that seizure protocols and first aid will be available should the unexpected occur. An adult in the workplace may actually increase risks for seizures by stressing about their potential for occurring at the office.
As you might already know, epilepsy is a condition in which your brain experiences electrical disturbances. These can halt activities and lead to seizures. However, seizures are not always about a loss of consciousness or physical convulsions. You might hallucinate, you might have automatisms in which you scream, and any of these symptoms can lead to upset, embarrassment and more.
For decades, scientists in all parts of the world have struggled to understand why seizures occur and how to control them. In the new study, the team was able to gather data in a way that was different than previous studies. In the past, brain activity was monitored in very artificial and controlled settings, i.e. no real world input or influences were tracked.
However, the UCSF study used an "implanted brain stimulation device… called the NeuroPace RNS® System" Not only does it recognize the moment a seizure begins, and halt it but it also made it easier than ever for the scientists to "record seizure-related brain activity for many months or even years in patients as they go about their normal lives". In other words, and for the very first time, real world tracking was possible.
Because of this, the team was able to determine that seizures are a lot less "random" than ever before believed. They actually demonstrate certain patterns, revealing "electrical discharges in the brain" which the team named "brain irritability". This activity made it clear when a seizure was about to happen.
More than three dozen participants were tracked and some of the information they provided actually proved a few earlier hypotheses. For example, there were daily cycles of risk, showing that it is true that people do have seizures at certain times of day. Even more interesting was that fact that brain irritability does not last for hours but for weeks or months, and that patients will experience more seizure activity as brain irritability increases rather than when it is on the decline.
And they found that patterns of irritability are incredibly stable over time. When individuals daily risk cycles overlapped with their long term brain irritability cycle on the rise, it was a time for greatest risk of seizure. As the team wrote, it was "nearly seven times more likely to occur than when the two cycles are mismatched."