Epilepsy Monitoring Unit Opens

The first epilepsy monitoring unit in the region has opened at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The unit offers specialized care to patients who would otherwise have to travel beyond western Virginia.

Epilepsy, a brain disorder, is marked by seizures or convulsions. It can occur as a hereditary condition or can develop at any age due to a head injury, infections, brain disease, or other causes.

It affects almost 3 million Americans, and about 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia. One in 10 Americans has a seizure over his or her lifetime.

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A one-hour electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain, can help to diagnose epilepsy. But the test has limitations. A more accurate diagnosis can be made during a three- to-five-day stay in an epilepsy monitoring unit.

In the unit, three dozen tiny electrodes are attached to a patient’s skull to measure and record brain activity. A patient is also continuously monitored by video. If a seizure occurs, the patient or a family member who is always present pushes an event button. It records when and where in the brain the seizure occurred and transmits the data to medical staff in a nearby control room.

Depending on the type of seizure, patients may be prescribed anti-seizure medication, or referred for surgery.

One doctor who has referred patients to the unit is neurologist Chinekwu Anyanwu, M.D. She recently joined Carilion after completing her residency at New Jersey Neuroscience Institute and a fellowship in neurophysiology/epilepsy/EEG at Georgetown University Hospital.

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“The unit is designed to diagnose different types of seizures and to help patients on multiple medications whose epilepsy is uncontrolled or who make frequent ED visits,” says Dr. Anyanwu. “We also treat patients with seizure-like activities, including dizziness, jerking, memory losses, hallucinations, staring spells, or sleep disorders.”

In addition, the unit can do pre-surgical evaluations for refractory seizures, or seizures not controlled by medication.

Three beds at Roanoke Memorial have been designated as the epilepsy monitoring unit. A day room with a refrigerator, microwave, and games is also available to give patients more mobility during their stay.

Patients admitted to date have been from all age groups, says Nikki Atkinson, respiratory and EEG director at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

For more information, call 540-266-6000 or 800-422-8482.

Maureen Robb is a writer and the editor of Carilion Clinic Living magazine.