Friday, November 19, 2010

Epilepsy as a Spectrum Disorder

“Seizures are often only the tip of the epilepsy iceberg,” says Frances Jensen, M.D., professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of epilepsy research at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “We’re beginning to pay attention to what’s down below. Often that includes other serious problems, too,” she says in my article, Epilepsy as a Spectrum Disorder, in the current issue of EpilepsyUSA.

Depression, migraines, learning disorders, autism, ADHD, and Alzheimer's all have high associations with epilepsy.
Unfortunately, many clinicians only have time--or the inclination, or the expertise--to treat seizures. If they can get a patient's seizures under control, they often consider their jobs complete, while the patients continue to suffer quietly from other less salient conditions.

The upside of recognizing these associations is that with emerging insights into the relationship between epilepsy and other  psychiatric and neurological problems, neuroscientists are getting a more comprehensive picture of the deeper workings  of the whole brain. A consensus is emerging among researchers that epilepsy is better viewed, and treated, not simply as a disorder defined by seizures, but as something more complex and nuanced, more explicitly interrelated with other illnesses.

That's one reason many top neuroscientists argue epilepsy research should be a priority investment. When we  understand what causes seizures, on a deep level, we'll also have keys to the doors of  many other brain-related problems. And to an understanding of the well functioning brain, too.

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