Epilepsy: What Happens After You’re Diagnosed?

Print icon

Nearly 60,000 people in Connecticut live with epilepsy. There are many different types of epilepsy and seizures — and they can come out of nowhere. Hartford HealthCare epileptologist Dr. Erica Schuyler explains.  

Q. What is epilepsy?

A: Epilepsy is recurrent, unprovoked seizures – caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Epilepsy is different from person to person. Seizures typically last from a few seconds to a few minutes and consist of convulsions or shaking. Other times, a patient will simply become unresponsive and stare into space. There’s no one-size-fits-all seizure; in fact, some patients with epilepsy experience more than one type of seizure.

Q: What is going on in the body when a person has epilepsy?

A: When somebody has epilepsy, their brain is prone to having unprovoked seizures. Which means that at any time — and unpredictably — the neurons in the brain can fire abnormally. Those abnormal discharges in the brain are what lead to the clinical symptoms. Either losing consciousness, experiencing some abnormal neurological symptoms, or collapsing.

Q: How long do associated seizures last?

A: Typically, a seizure will last between 1 and 2 minutes. If a convulsive seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, that’s really a serious medical emergency. But most of them, fortunately, do end after about 60-90 seconds or so.

Q: Are you more at risk for this if you have a family history?

A: There are a lot of different risk factors for developing epilepsy. Some types of epilepsy have genetic components. In that case, a family history would be relevant. In other cases, somebody can develop epilepsy due to an injury to their brain such as a head injury, a stroke, a brain tumor, or anything else that really could damage the brain.

Q: What can people expect once they’re diagnosed?

A: After we make the diagnosis of epilepsy using imaging and EEG, we use medications as our first -ine treatment. At this point, there are many medications available. About 2 out of 3 patients with epilepsy respond  well to the medications. It’s just a matter of finding the one that works and the one that doesn’t cause side effects. However, about 1 in 3 patients, the medications really are not effective in completely controlling the seizures. In some cases, we can actually cure epilepsy altogether with a surgery. So if it’s the type of epilepsy where there’s a tiny spot that’s really acting up, in some cases that spot can be surgically removed. In other cases, if there’s not that spot in the brain that can be safely removed, there are other devices. For example, the vagus nerve stimulator, which is sort of like a pacemaker. It’s a same-day procedure. It’s not a brain surgery, but implantation of that device can help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.

Learn more about the Hartford HealthCare Comprehensive Epilepsy Center here, or call 1.855.HHC.HERE (1.855.442.4373)



What's New


When it comes to a stroke, think F.A.S.T.

By Dr. Timothy Parsons If you or a loved one had a stroke, would you know what to do? May is Stroke Awareness Month and it’s a good time to learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatments for stroke. The more you know, the faster you can respond, and...

Ayer Institute Adds Neurosurgeon

Dr. Mohamad Khaled, a Neurosurgeon, Joins Ayer Institute

Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute announced the appointment of Dr. Mohamad Khaled as a neurosurgeon seeing patients both at Hartford Hospital and in offices in Enfield. “Dr. Khaled’s broad base of expertise enhances the services we already provide to patients suffering from various diseases and tumors of the brain and...


This Is What a Stroke Looks Like

Stroke, a leading cause of death in the United States, causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Stroke risk more than doubles each decade after age 55, according the the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Here’s more from Dr. Amre Nouh, director of the Stroke Center at...

Backus and Ayer Neuroscience Institute Welcomes Neurosurgeon

The Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute welcomes neurosurgeon Mark Hornyak, MD, who began seeing patients earlier this month at One Towne Park Plaza in Norwich and will be performing procedures at Backus Hospital. Dr. Hornyak, who grew up in Clinton, CT, comes to Hartford HealthCare from Bassett Healthcare Network in...

Dancing with the Stars

Watch Your Step: It’s Stars Dancing for Parkinson’s May 10

They’re doctors, administrators, corporate organizers – and now they’re dancers as part of the second annual Stars Dancing for Parkinson’s fundraiser to benefit the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center at the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute. “I’m no dancer – I’m not even sure I have rhythm!,” said Donna Handley, president...