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Friday, 19 January, 2001, 02:12 GMT
Epilepsy seizures 'can be predicted'
Traces of brain activity may provide vital clues
Scientists have found a way to predict when somebody is likely to have an epileptic seizure.

In most people with epilepsy, seizures occur suddenly and without warning and can lead to disability or even death.

However, a team from Hopital de la Pitie-Salpetriere, Paris, believe it may be possible to predict the onset of seizures by carrying out an electroencephalogram (EEG).

This is an interesting and exciting development

Philip Lee, British Epilepsy Association
An ECG records electrical activity from different parts of the brain and converts it into a tracing.

The Paris team analysed 26 recordings from 60 minutes before a seizure in 23 patients with temporal-lobe epilepsy.

The researchers discovered that there is a tell-tale transition phase in the pattern of electrical signals emitted by the brain prior to a seizure that lasts for several minutes.

In 25 of 26 recordings, picking up these changes allowed the researchers to anticipate a seizure on average seven minutes before it occurred.

Home tests

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers say their method is relatively cheap, and that it might be possible to carry out readings at home using a personal computer.

They say: "The ability to anticipate seizure may have considerable practical implications for the large population of patients with uncontrolled epilepsy.

"If proven reliable, such an application would lower the medical consequences of seizures and improve the quality of life of people with epilepsy by decreasing the risk of injury, and the sense of helplessness fostered by the unpredictability of the disease."

Dr David Fish, from the Institute of Neurology in London, said the research represented a potentially exciting breakthrough which may have implications for the future treatment of seizures.

But he warned that the method has not yet been tested on enough patients to confirm its reliability.

Also, there are not many epilepsy drugs that could work immediately and patients would have to be subjected to life-long EEGs.

Not insurmountable

However, Dr Fish said the problems were not insurmountable.

He added that the transitional changes recorded in brain activity could be helpful in developing new anti-epilepsy drugs.

Philip Lee, Chief Executive of British Epilepsy Association (BEA), said: "This is an interesting and exciting development.

"BEA welcomes all new research that enhances our understanding of epilepsy and can lead to improvements in how the condition is treated."

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