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Epilepsy Device Also Works for Young Children

Implantable stimulator best for worst cases

Seizures are surprisingly common early in life. All it takes is a high fever. The resulting convulsions can be horrible for parents to witness. However, in the absence of a fever, some children experience epileptic seizures caused by previous infections, head trauma or developmental defects. Although medication sometimes prevents seizures, the drugs can have unwanted side effects in growing children. Doctors now report success using an implantable nerve stimulator that frees some epileptics, even small children, from a life on drugs.

An estimated 2.3 million Americans have epilepsy. About 60 percent of those on medication still experience seizures, which may be as mild as a momentary lapse in awareness or as severe as a "tonic-clonic" seizure that wracks the body with convulsions. The most severe kind used to be called grand mal seizures.

In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an implantable device to prevent epileptic attacks. It consists of a pacemaker-like generator that stimulates the vagus nerve that delivers sensory information from the major organs to the brain. Although originally approved for persons older than 12, doctors report success treating children under 5 with the device.

The implant also seems to work best in patients who are the most severely affected, says Dr. Catherine Phillips, an epilepsy specialist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "The more seizures the person has, the higher the likelihood that the person will see a good response," she says. The Orange County Register reprints a story from the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette explaining the implant.

Advances in preventing seizures might help people with epilepsy improve their health in other ways. A survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that epileptics report feeling less healthy overall than those without epilepsy. A story in The Times of India says high levels of depression and anxiety often accompany epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Foundation has additional information about epilepsy and its treatments.

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