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Monitoring Epilepsy Saves Lives

Mary Spiciarich, M.D., Assistant Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and Pediatric Epileptologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital Photo Credit: NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital
Alison May, M.D., ABPN, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Pediatric Epileptologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital Photo Credit: NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital

As the number of epilepsy cases rise, the Epilepsy Monitoring Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital has expanded to serve patients of all ages.

More Americans have epilepsy now than ever before, and the number is only increasing. At least 3.4 million people in the United States have epilepsy, and New York State has the fourth-highest number of people with active epilepsy in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Epilepsy, a disorder of the central nervous system, is often portrayed on screen as causing dramatic, violent seizures. But the reality is that seizures can look very different for different people, at times causing subtle symptoms such as blinking or staring into space. 

That’s why continuous electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring is so important for diagnosis and treatment in patients with suspected seizures.

“We use epilepsy monitoring in almost all of our patients who have seizures at one point or another because it is the best way to match the electrical activity—in other words, what’s happening inside the brain—with our patients’ symptoms,” said Alison May, M.D., ABPN, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Pediatric Epileptologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence. 

Finding the Right Diagnosis

Around 9,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with epilepsy every year. Because epilepsy behaves in so many different ways, accurate diagnosis is key to determining what treatment will work most effectively.

“Our epilepsy monitoring unit can help determine whether the spells our patients are experiencing are in fact seizures,” said Mary Spiciarich, M.D., Assistant Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and Pediatric Epileptologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence. 

EEG monitoring is similar to an EKG, only the electrical activity of the brain is measured instead of the heart. The Epilepsy Monitoring Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital also uses advanced video monitoring to closely observe patients, helping the physicians to correlate clinical symptoms with activity on the EEG recording.

“Through video monitoring, we are able to screen for electrical seizure patterns and match electrical activity to concerning symptoms happening in the rest of the body,” Dr. May said. “This helps us determine the right medications to manage or resolve the patient’s seizures.”

Specialized Pediatric Care

The majority of people with epilepsy are adults, but about one-eighth of New Yorkers with epilepsy are children. Unexplained seizures or a new epilepsy diagnosis can be just as terrifying for parents as for children, which is why NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital has a dedicated team of pediatric neurologists.

“Epilepsy is a disorder that if it is missed or treated too late, can result in significant neurodevelopmental consequences,” Dr. May said.

Both Drs. May and Spiciarich have completed fellowships specializing in treating pediatric epilepsy.

“In treating  epilepsy, we have a real opportunity to alter the quality of our patients’ lives,” Dr. Spiciarich said. “This involves collaborative, multidisciplinary and comprehensive care that is so crucial for our patients and their families.”

The Epilepsy Monitoring Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence offers extensive monitoring for adults and children who have epilepsy. Program services are offered through a collaboration with ColumbiaDoctors, including Alison May, M.D., and Mary Spiciarich, M.D.

To learn more, visit https://www.nyp.org/lawrence/services/epilepsy-monitoring or call 914-787-5000.

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