Everything you need to know about Epilepsy Surgery

I was compensated by Med-IQ in collaboration with Duke Health to write about the risks of uncontrolled epilepsy and surgical treatment for epilepsy. All opinions are my own.

I know firsthand what it’s like to live with epilepsy, and I’m fiercely dedicated to helping educate others on high quality treatment options. Today, I’m back with more information on epilepsy treatment, including epilepsy surgery, straight from one of the top doctors in the field. 

Why I Chose to Work with Med-IQ and Duke Health

My blog has always been dedicated to helping parents, particularly military spouses, live a rich and full life. Sometimes, the barrier to this goal is a physical illness. In my case, epilepsy seemed an impossible obstacle; and before I got it under control, I felt desperate. I decided to work with Med-IQ and Duke Health for this article to help prevent others from feeling as hopeless as I did! Though there are a variety of options for epilepsy treatment, there continues to be a lack of education about risks, benefits, and choosing the right path for you. 

Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company tasked with providing excellent education for medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Duke Health is a Level 4 Epilepsy Center, which means they have experience providing the highest level of care for epileptic patients. Their work begins with diagnosis and moves through treatment, including surgical options, to ensure that patients can control their seizures and live a rich, fulfilling life. 

Meet Dr. Southwell

I so enjoyed getting to meet and talk with neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Southwell, MD, PhD! Dr. Southwell is the Surgical Director at the Duke Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and Assistant Research Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University in Durham, NC. From the moment we started talking, it was clear that he is one of the foremost resources on this topic, and it was such a treat to get to hear so much information straight from him!

epilepsy surgery

Photo Courtesy of Duke Health

Current Challenges of Patients with Epilepsy

Though medications are typically prescribed as epilepsy treatment, roughly 30%-40% of patients continue to have ongoing seizures. That is a huge number! It’s critical that these people, who are living with uncontrolled seizures, be evaluated for surgical treatment. However, only about 10% of them are actually referred for surgical evaluation. This is why Dr. Southwell is passionate about reaching as many people as possible with this information; there’s no reason that patients should continue to suffer without determining if surgery is a valid option. 

Though patients of any age can be good candidates for surgery, the longer the epilepsy remains uncontrolled, the more difficult it can be to treat. Again, there’s plenty of reason to spread the word about a thorough evaluation for surgical intervention as early as possible! 

When Should You Ask Your Doctor About Epilepsy Surgery?

Dr. Southwell advised that if you’ve tried more than 2 medications without successfully controlling seizures, it’s time for a referral to an epilepsy center. At this point, ask your doctor to refer you to an epilepsy center to determine if surgery is the next right step. When medications don’t work, it’s common for people to assume that their epilepsy is untreatable, which is simply not the case. Don’t focus on the type of seizure you have as a reason to rule out surgery, either; surgery is used to treat a wide variety of seizure types.

Benefits and Risks of Surgery

The benefits of successful epilepsy surgery are incredible. There are 5-8 different types of surgical procedures, depending on the severity and origin of the seizures. The more effective surgeries are 70% to 80% effective at curing epilepsy altogether, while the less effective surgeries result in roughly a 50% to 70% reduction in the frequency of seizures, on average. To patients struggling to regain quality of life, this can be a lifeline of hope!

Of course, once you begin considering surgery, you may be concerned about the risks.. Dr. Southwell discussed the risks and benefits and shared that there is a lack  of awareness which leads people to overestimate the risks of epilepsy surgical procedures. Though no surgery is risk-free, and the complications which may occur can be very serious, complications for epilepsy surgery are actually relatively rare. 

The most extreme risks include permanent neurologic deficit (such as stroke) that would require a patient to have permanent care. Though this obviously sounds ominous, Dr. Southwell said this occurs in about 1% of patients, depending on the specific type of surgery. Other than this potential, the most common possible complications are relatively minor and typically do not lead to long term health effects. 

Most importantly, Dr. Southwell stressed that the risks associated with ongoing seizures are extremely serious, including cognitive and behavioral changes, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), and accidents due to seizures are themselves significant risks that occur with untreated epilepsy. Often, these risks will outweigh the risk of the surgical procedure. This is important to remember, and it’s critical that you talk with a doctor at an epilepsy center first before ruling out surgery due to fear of risk.

Expectations for recovering from surgery

Life disruption after surgery is a common concern, and Dr. Southwell was able to answer my questions about this important component. Depending on the type of surgery, recovery can vary, but he said that a hospital stay of more than 2-3 days is rare. There typically is not a need for rehab or extended stay in a nursing facility, and patients should be largely independent in their recovery at home. Though recovery can last a few weeks, patients start to feel up to 80%-90% back to normal after that time. Some headache and fatigue during recovery is normal, but it’s not permanent. 

Join Me in a Conversation with Dr. Southwell

I so enjoyed getting to hear insights from Dr. Southwell, that I asked if he would be willing to talk with all of you in an Instagram live, and he agreed! HERE is the link if you would like to check it out. I hope you’ll listen in, and share this information with anyone in your life who suffers from epilepsy!

epilepsy surgery

Med-IQ and Duke Health are conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey will take less than 10 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ and Duke Health with important information about your experience or your loved one’s experience with epilepsy treatment, which will help us develop future educational initiatives.

Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 3 $75 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will be used to randomly draw the winners and notify you of your prize if you win.

10 comments on “Everything you need to know about Epilepsy Surgery

  1. I’m happy you found such great support! I don’t have experience with epilepsy and I can’t even imagine how hard life must be for a person with epilepsy. But I’ve learned first hand how mental health problems can make you feel so hopeless and isolated and how important is to get the right support and medical care at the right time, before it’s too late. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I actually didn’t know that there was surgery for epilepsy. I though it was only treatable by medication. That’s pretty awesome.

  3. I’ve never heard about epilepsy surgery! Thank you for enlightening me and sharing this really informative post! It’s so great that you’re spreading awareness about this medical topic 😊

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