Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Archive
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Saturday, May 15, 1999 Published at 01:25 GMT 02:25 UK


Health

Scientists study brain damage link to epilepsy

Scientists are studying the brain to see if epilepsy causes damage

UK scientists have begun a pioneering study into whether epileptic fits cause long-term brain damage.

The study is funded by the Wellcome Trust and the National Society for Epilepsy, which launches National Epilepsy Week on Saturday.

In 1995, researchers studied the brains of 236 people who had recently suffered their first epileptic fit.

They are now following up the study three-and-a-half-years later to see whether their condition has caused any form of brain damage.

About 400,000 people in the UK suffer from epilepsy, making it the most common form of brain disorder.

It results in recurrent fits or seizures and can lead to loss of consciousness and death.

However, drug treatments can keep the symptoms under some control for the majority of sufferers.

Brain scans

The 236 patients were originally given a brain scan using a magnetic resonance imaging machine.

The scans give a detailed picture of any damage to the brain.

The patients are now being invited back for another scan which will be matched with the first one. The researchers will be looking for any signs of scarring or shrinking of brain tissue.

Professor John Duncan, who is leading the research and is the medical director of the National Society for Epilepsy, says it is the first study of its kind into the long-term effects of epilepsy on the brain.

The researchers are also scanning a control group of 80 people to screen for the general effects of ageing on the brain.

At risk

"We think it is likely that people who have had lots of seizures or severe ones may be at risk of brain damage," said Professor Duncan.

"We are also looking to see if any particular part of the brain is at risk of damage and if some areas are more resistant.

"In this way, we can identify if some people are more at risk than others and they can perhaps be given more intensive treatment."

People who suffer from epilepsy are usually given minimum doses of drug treatments because it is unclear what the side effects will be.

If the seizures continue the dosage is increased.

"If we find that recurrent seizures do indeed cause brain damage, then a more aggressive initial therapy may be better right from the outset," said Professor Duncan.

The researchers are expected to take up to two years to complete their scans.

Professor Duncan is also involved in another study into whether epilepsy is a symptom of brain damage.

The National Society for Epilepsy has launched an awareness campaign for National Epilepsy Week, highlighting public ignorance over how to deal with a person who is having a seizure.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

10 May 99 | Health
Public 'ignorant' about epilepsy

19 Feb 99 | Health
Oral epilepsy medication 'will save lives'

27 Jan 99 | Health
Thousands mislabelled epileptic





Internet Links


British Epilepsy Association

Epilepsy information

Epilepsy


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99