EASLEY — Sufferers of epilepsy haven’t seen many options for treatment over the years, especially in Pickens County, but Baptist Easley Hospital in conjunction with Clemson Neurology has opened avenues locally.
When it comes to epilepsy, epileptics have only three possible treatments for the condition: maintenance medication, temporal surgery or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). There are no guarantees with either treatment but the availability of medical alternatives is proving to be a boon for the county, especially the ready availability of the VNS option.
VNS is an implant laced in the chest beneath the skin that releases an electrical stimulation to the affected portion of the sufferer’s brain to prevent or stave off seizures. The technology has been available for some time, but in the upstate this option has been limited until recent years.
“There are more than 30 possible medications available as treatments for patients, and this is the first step once the diagnosis is made,” said Dr. Jerry Sherrill of Clemson Neurology. “For many, medication works, but for others the solution is more in-depth. Once a series of medications has been tried, the next step is to check for the viability of surgery.”
If medications fail in treatment, a battery of tests is conducted to locate the specific portion of the temporal lobe creating the “electrical storm” that triggers a seizure. Tests are then conducted to determine if surgery will adversely affect the normal, daily life functions such as speech and motor skills.
For many, surgery is a viable solution, but if the patient fears invasive surgery, or surgery and medication fail, VNS becomes the option for treatment.
“A neurosurgeon implants the device which has a battery pack with a life of 10 years and can be turned off by taping a magnet over it,” Sherrill said of the VNS. “The device itself is managed here (Clemson Neurology) through an interface device and for local patients the visits are local too, either Easley or Clemson.”
How the VNS works is actually simple for such a highly developed piece of technology. When the patient receives a warning sign of an impending seizure, the device sends an electrical impulse to the brain through the vagus nerve to assist in aborting the seizure.
Not all treatments are successful. Sherrill recalled one patient who had had no success with either medication or surgery, termed a temporal lobotomy, but the VNS device is still providing relief after several years.
Unlike many diseases or disorders, age is not a factor in determining when the illness sets in where epilepsy is concerned.
“A temporary chaotic storm of the brain can be caused by any brain insult whether it’s an in utero virus or anoxia at delivery, trauma at some point, or even a stroke,” Sherrill said. “Epilepsy can strike at any age and the causes at different ages are different as well. There are warning signs such as a frequent metallic taste or smell for no reason.”