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If you have been diagnosed with a focal seizure disorder, that is the first and most important step to managing epilepsy. Accurately diagnosing the type of seizures you have and understanding what happens to you during a seizure are critical elements to ensuring you receive the most effective, high-quality health care possible.
You will want to learn as much about your condition as you can. You are a primary player on your seizure treatment team. Your personal expertise is necessary to diagnose, understand, and manage your seizure disorder.
Understanding your diagnosis is the first step in treating and managing your seizures. The better you understand your seizure diagnosis, the better you can help your doctor understand and treat you.
Diagnosing a person’s seizures can be tricky. An accurate seizure diagnosis relies, in part, on identifying the way seizures start and how a seizure affects one’s mind and body. Diagnosing seizures requires some level of direct observation.
Seizure diagnosis also involves a detailed medical history and medical tests. To determine what part of the brain is involved, an epilepsy specialist may monitor brain activity and capture any abnormal electrical activity via computerized tomography (CT), electroencephalogram (EEG), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
There are many types of seizures. A focal onset seizure, or a focal seizure, starts on just one side of the brain. Formerly called “partial seizures,” focal onset seizures are the most common type of seizure diagnosed in people with epilepsy. In contrast, generalized seizures originate from both sides of the brain at the same time.
Focal seizures are further categorized based on their cognitive symptoms (whether a person is aware or unaware during a seizure) and physical symptoms (whether there is bodily movement or no movement). The types of focal seizures include:
One’s type of seizure can change over time. Your diagnosis may change as you and your doctors learn more information about your seizures and how they affect you.
Your treatment for focal seizures should be a collaborative partnership between you and your doctors. This is known as a self-management approach. This approach to treatment, especially for a long-term chronic illness, emphasizes the central role of the individual and their family as part of the health care team. Communication with your health care team — both through asking questions and proactively informing them about your seizure experience — is a vital part of developing a treatment plan and a seizure-management plan.
Keep asking questions so that you get the right tests and treatment for your type of seizures and epilepsy. There is no one treatment that works for all types of seizures and types of epilepsy. Be your own greatest health advocate.
The goal of epilepsy treatment is to achieve full seizure control, or to stop seizures with minimal side effects. Not everyone manages to become entirely seizure-free, however. Treatment seeks to reduce seizure frequency and seizure activity as much as possible. Your personalized medical regimen for focal seizures will likely include any combination of treatments from four categories: medication, diet, implanted devices, and surgery.
Antiseizure medication, also known as antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are generally the first-line treatment for focal seizures. Seizures are controlled with monotherapy (just one AED), and around 60 percent of people with epilepsy respond to the first or second drug prescribed to them. Second-line treatment options include surgery, devices, and dietary therapy.
A trigger is anything that brings on a seizure. Knowing what your triggers are may help when managing seizures. Some common seizure triggers are stress, certain foods, flashing lights, or not getting enough sleep.
Seizures can occur in anyone at any time. Many times, seizures happen without any warning or signs. Other times, some people perceive seizure warning signs before they have a seizure. These may give clues as to whether a person is having a seizure and can help doctors determine if other treatments or medical tests are necessary.
Living with epilepsy, a lifelong neurological condition, requires more than just knowing your type of seizures and what medicine to take. You need to learn how to respond to seizures in a variety of situations, adapt your day-to-day life to meet your health needs, and be prepared to handle whatever comes your way. This will allow you to be empowered with your illness and help you lead a more successful life.
Dietary therapy may help some people achieve seizure control. It can be particularly helpful when a person’s seizures have not responded or have stopped responding to other traditional treatments. Dietary therapy is usually used together with seizure medications. A ketogenic diet or a modified Atkins diet can be incorporated in a focal seizure treatment plan.
Some people with epilepsy try natural or alternative treatments. Some see improvements in their symptoms when they use therapies such as melatonin, acupuncture, herbal or nutritional supplements, medical cannabis, and mindfulness and meditation practices. When these therapies are used alongside prescribed treatments, they are considered complementary treatments. Always consult a doctor before beginning any new supplements or alternative therapies to avoid potentially harmful interactions with other medications.
If you are living with epilepsy, you are at greater risk for certain mood disorders. Being diagnosed with and managing a chronic disease is stressful. Seizures themselves can affect a person’s behavior. In addition, side effects of medicines may complicate the picture. Make sure you pay attention to and prioritize your emotional and mental health. Consider meditating, journaling, art therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you understand and manage your emotional needs.
Understanding your diagnosis and treatment plan will help you be the best manager of your epilepsy. Start an open dialogue with those on your health care team. Below are some ideas for questions you can bring to your next appointment.
MyEpilepsyTeam is the social network for people with epilepsy and their loved ones. On MyEpilepsyTeam, more than 91,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with epilepsy.
Are you living with focal seizures? Do you have any advice about talking with your doctor? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.