New Medicines Mean More Options for Treating Epilepsy
People have known about epilepsy since ancient times. But no cure has yet been found for the condition, which is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and which causes brief seizures, leading to loss of muscle control and difficulties with speech and vision.
The two types of the disease are primary generalized epilepsy, in which a person has a genetic predisposition to the condition, and partial epilepsy, which is usually caused by a traumatic injury to the brain. Today, most cases of epilepsy are effectively controlled by medication, including seizure-preventing medicines or antiepileptic drugs.
Rodney Radtke, M.D., professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, says there has been tremendous progress recently in treating the neurological disease.
"In the last 10 years there have been eight new medicines that have come on the market for the treatment of epilepsy, which have been added to the five or six we had previously," Radtke says. "It's markedly increased our options.
"These medicines work through a variety of different mechanisms which gives us a chance to maybe attack the cause or the genesis of the epilepsy through a different direction."
Newer antiepileptic medicines offer significant advantages for many patients.
"They have different side-effect profiles," says Radtke. "I think the biggest advance with these new medicines, particularly with drugs like lamotrigine and levetiracetam, is that they cause fewer cognitive side effects and less sedation, allowing the person to function at a higher level than they were able to before when we used medicines that frequently slowed down thinking or awareness."
Radtke believes that advances in neurological and genetic research will someday lead to a cure for epilepsy. Until then, he says there are a number of options to help persons with epilepsy cope with and control the symptoms of the nervous system disorder.
"You shouldn't have to live with seizures," he says. "If you're suffering from seizures and have for many years, you should seek out help, because there are a lot of new medicines and new methods of treating epilepsy that didn't exist even 10 years ago, that give us a greater hope for a cure or at least control."