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About 1% of the UK population have a form of epilepsy, and whilst many epilepsy patients manage to live perfectly healthy and safe lives with the condition, there are still 1,000 epilepsy-related deaths per year – 600 of which are attributed to SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy).
A recently broadcast Newsnight programme was given exclusive access to epilepsy brain surgery within the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. The surgery involved removing part of the temporal lobe in order to stop or prevent future epileptic fits.
The surgery is generally considered a success, with 60% of patients not suffering from a fit again after the operation, but the procedure is also often considered experimental, with side effects ranging from increased risk of stroke or severe memory loss. Between 10% and 30% of individuals who have the procedure suffer from more minor problems including memory loss and sight issues.
Professor Ley Sander, who specialises in Neurology and Clinical Epilepsy, says that part of the wider issue with epilepsy is that most people are unaware of the potential risks that epilepsy carries – namely SUDEP, and the fact that this condition tends to occur in younger patients.
“The fact that not everyone knows that epilepsy can be a relatively malignant condition is part of the problem. The thousand deaths may not sound a lot but most of the people are young people…People die at the prime of their life.” He stated on the Newsnight programme
Although traditionally, epilepsy is treated with controlled medication, there is another option for patients looking to ‘cure’ their condition – brain surgery.
Professor Sander explains that medical professionals can determine where in the brain seizures are being triggered from, and see if the individual fulfils any other criteria, before removing part of the brain which is not needed by the patient within their day to day life, but that is contributing to the seizures.
The programme showed how consultants and surgeons used a combination of MRI, surgical tools and specialised medical techniques in order to reach the part of the brain they want to remove, without effecting other areas such as speech, sight or memory.
Professor Sander then went on to explain how the risk of the operation has to be weighed up against the risk of carrying on life with the condition which could be potentially fatal.