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Knowledge key to managing epilepsy

Often misunderstood, epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders worldwide.

Today epilepsy is known to be a treatable medical condition, but as late as the 19th century the disease was considered to be mystical in nature. In fact, the word "epilepsy" comes from the Greek word "epilepsia," meaning to "take hold, as if by supernatural forces." People with epilepsy were often treated with suspicion and fear.

In fact, epilepsy is a group of brain disorders, characterized by excessive and dysfunctional electrical brainstorms. Today, advances in diagnosis, medical therapy, neurosurgery and other medical devices can help manage or even cure the condition. But a social stigma still exists. Information and education are key to helping those with epilepsy to cope and those around them to be supportive.

A great book to start learning about epilepsy comes from the excellent 100 Questions & Answers series. "100 Questions & Answers about Epilepsy," by Anuradha Singh, M.D. (Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2006), is organized in a question and answer format for easy navigation, addressing such subjects as risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, special populations and epilepsy surgery.

The book answers 100 frequently asked questions, ranging from the basics: "What is a seizure?" and "What do I need to know about the brain in order to understand epilepsy?" to questions about the latest diagnostic techniques and epilepsy treatments: "What is temporal and extra temporal surgery?" and "What is neuroprosthesis?"

The answers provided are intelligent and informative, yet written in lay language for ease of comprehension. The author is a practicing neurologist with clinical experience and understanding. She also includes commentary from an epilepsy patient, providing insight into his or her perspective.

For those coping with epilepsy, either themselves or a loved one, the American Academy of Neurology has published "Epilepsy: A Guide to Balancing Your Life," by Ilo E. Leppik, M.D. (AAN, 2007). This new book provides important information that can improve the quality of life for those with epilepsy by discussing a variety of ways to manage the disease. From treating the disorder with medication or surgery to day-to-day issues such as diet and nutrition, pregnancy and transportation, the book offers sensible, reliable advice. Illustrations clarify the author's points and a glossary at the back of the book provides definitions of unfamiliar terms.

Taking a different approach, "Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy," edited by Orrin Devinsky, M.D., et al. (Demos, 2005), is written for both health-care professionals and savvy laypersons. Written by a number of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) experts representing a range of specialties, the book does an excellent job of marrying CAM therapies for epilepsy with scientifically based "traditional" medical care. Sometimes claims made by CAM practitioners are unreliable. The authors of the book do a commendable job of presenting the facts about the science and the experience behind the CAM therapies discussed.

Among the CAM approaches included in the book are methods for seizure reduction, such as neurofeedback, autogenic training, massage, hypnosis, meditation and more. Asian, herbal and homeopathic therapies are discussed, as are nutritional approaches like the ketogenic diet. Among the alternative medical therapies covered are transcranial magnetic stimulation and hormonal therapy. Other epilepsy treatment includes oxygen, manipulation, osteopathic, music, art and pet therapies. Readers of this book can be assured they are getting a balanced view of alternative therapies for epilepsy.

All three of these books, along with many more that can help people better manage their own health care, are on the shelves of the Stanford Health Library. The Health Library has complete e-books, available on any computer to patrons who register with the library. "Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy" is available both in print and as an e-book.

Visit the library, call or send an e-mail for free research assistance and information packets. Branches are located at the Stanford Shopping Center near Bloomingdale's, on the third floor of Stanford Hospital and on the main level of Stanford's new Cancer Center. For more information, visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu, send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 725-8400.

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