Epilepsy Monitoring Unit

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Epilepsy and Epilespy Monitoring Unit (EMU)

Epilepsy Health Library InformationEpilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures and can affect people in different ways. Seizures can be mild and barely noticeable, such as staring spells or twitches to the extremities, while others may be violent and harmful to the individual. Since epilepsy and seizures can occur in many different ways to many different people, diagnosing and treating the disorder is often challenging to patients and physicians.

The causes of epilepsy are just as challenging and can be caused by different conditions that affect a person’s brain. Often the cause is unknown, but some conditions that lead to epilepsy are stroke, brain tumor, traumatic brain injuries, head injury, and central nervous system infection. Seizures are the main sign of epilepsy and typically a person is diagnosed with epilepsy when they have had two or more seizures.

Seizures are classified into two groups

Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain.

  • Absence seizures, sometimes called petit mal seizures, can cause rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring into space.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures, also called grand mal seizures, can make a person:
    • Cry out
    • Lose consciousness
    • Fall to the ground
    • Have muscle jerks or spasms.
    • Feel tired after a tonic-clonic seizure.

Focal seizures are located in just one area of the brain. These seizures are also called partial seizures.

  • Simple focal seizures affect a small part of the brain. These seizures can cause twitching or a change in sensation, such as a strange taste or smell.
  • Complex focal seizures can make a person with epilepsy confused or dazed. The person will be unable to respond to questions or direction for up to a few minutes.
  • Secondary generalized seizures begin in one part of the brain but then spread to both sides of the brain. In other words, the person first has a focal seizure, followed by a generalized seizure.

Seizures may last as long as a few minutes.

Treatment and Prevention

A person who has a seizure for the first time should talk to a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or nurse practitioner. The provider will talk to the person about what happened, and look for the cause of the seizure. Many people who have seizures take tests such as brain scans for a closer look at what is going on. The most important step is to speak with your provider.

There are many things a provider and person with epilepsy can do to stop or lessen seizures. The most common treatments for epilepsy are:

  • Medicine.  Anti-seizure drugs are medicines that limit the spread of seizures in the brain. A healthcare provider will change the amount of the medicine or prescribe a new drug if needed to find the best treatment plan. Medicines work for about 2 in 3 people with epilepsy.
  • Surgery.  When seizures come from a single area of the brain (focal seizures), surgery to remove that area may stop future seizures or make them easier to control with medicine. Epilepsy surgery is mostly used when the seizure focus is located in the temporal lobe of the brain.
  • Other treatments. When medicines do not work and surgery is not possible, other treatments can help. These include vagus nerve stimulation, where an electrical device is placed, or implanted, under the skin on the upper chest to send signals to a large nerve in the neck.

Sometimes we can prevent epilepsy. These are some of the most common ways to reduce your risk of developing epilepsy:

  • Have a healthy pregnancy. Some problems during pregnancy and childbirth may lead to epilepsy. Follow a prenatal care plan with your healthcare provider to keep you and your baby healthy.
  • Prevent brain injuries.
  • Lower the chances of stroke and heart disease.
  • Be up-to-date on your vaccinations.
  • Wash your hands and prepare food safely to prevent infections

Epilespy Monitoring Unit (EMU)

UTMB Health has a dedicated epilepsy treatment program under the direction of Dr. Todd Masel. Dr. Masel is board certified in both Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology and is the Director of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU).

The Epilepsy Monitoring Unit was created to help patients understand their seizures and determine the best possible treatment options for patients to regain their lives.

As part of your evaluation at our Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU), we'll record your typical events for better diagnosis and/or to adjust your antiepileptic medication safely. To record your events, we use a video camera, microphones and continuous EEG recording. We do these so your doctor can learn more about your seizures and provide the best possible care for you.

Who is the EMU for?

  • Patients with epilepsy who are interested in in finding out what type of epilepsy they have, in order to get the best medical and/or surgical treatment.
  • Patients with epilepsy who are interested in finding out how well-controlled their epilepsy is.
  • Patients who have seizure-like episodes and who are interested in finding out whether or not they have epilepsy.

What will a patient get out of an EMU stay? 

  • An answer as to whether or not they have epilepsy, and if so, what type of epilepsy and what would be the best treatment for it. This treatment will usually be started during the EMU stay.
  • If they are found to not have epilepsy, then during their EMU stay they will usually be started on treatment for whatever other underlying problem may be discovered.
  • An in-depth explanation of whatever their diagnosis is found to be.
  • All records from the EMU stay will be promptly available for the patient to have them sent to their primary care doctor.
Content Sources: UTMB Health and Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Call for assistance day or night 409-772-2222

Epilepsy Monitoring Unit

John Sealy Hospital, 9th Floor
8th and Market St.
Galveston, Texas 77555

(409) 772-1450

[see campus map]
[interactive directions]

Our Lead Physician

Dr. Todd Masel
Dr. Todd Masel

After receiving his under graduate education at the University of Texas in Austin, Dr. Masel attended medical school at UTMB in Galveston, where he also completed his Neurology residency training. He then completed a Clinical Neurophysiology fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, before returning to UTMB as a faculty member. He is currently the Director of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, the Co-director of the EEG Department, and the Associate Director of the Neurology residency program. He is board certified in both Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology. He practices Neurology, with a special emphasis on Epilepsy.

John Sealy Hospital

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