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Can a Laser Cure Epilepsy?

Learn the benefits of stereotactic laser ablation.

A doctor places a hand on the shoulder of a young female patient.
Photo credit: Getty Images
Two physicians in full blue scrubs performing surgery

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Dear Doctor,

I’ve been living with epilepsy since the age of 10, and I take medication to prevent seizures. But the side effects of the drug—mainly fatigue and dizziness—are really hard to deal with, and I still have a seizure nearly every month. A friend recently told me about a laser surgery procedure that can cure epilepsy. Is this really true, and how do I know if I’m a candidate?

Sincerely, 

“Hoping for a Cure”

Dear Hoping for a Cure:

You should know that with the treatments we have available today, almost no one should have to live with seizures. With the use of either medication or a combination of medication plus some type of surgical procedure, the majority of patients can have their seizures completely controlled. This means not having any seizures at all, or having them rarely.

About two-thirds of people with epilepsy are able to control their condition with medication alone. So it may be that by switching to a different medication, you’ll be able to relieve yourself of seizures. But in one-third of patients, medication alone isn’t enough to control epilepsy. Fortunately, surgery may help them, and it may be able to help you, too.

The laser procedure you’ve heard about is a minimally invasive procedure called stereotactic laser ablation. Stereotactic means to place something with great precision, and with this procedure we’re able to insert a laser device deep into the brain to destroy only the damaged tissue that is causing the seizures.

While the procedure for inserting the device is done in an operating room, we deliver the treatment in an MRI facility and use MRI imaging to see what we're doing as we're doing it. This allows us to make sure we’re targeting just the tissue that is causing the seizures and not damaging any nearby areas of the brain. We are able to insert the device into the brain by making a very, very small opening in the skull—about the width of a piece of spaghetti. Because the incision is so tiny, there’s virtually no blood loss, and recovery is quick. Most patients are able to go home the day after surgery.

To be a candidate for stereotactic laser ablation surgery, you must have epilepsy that's caused by damage to just a single area of the brain. (The location of the damage within the brain differs from person to person.)

One thing to keep in mind is that even after surgery, the majority of patients still require some medication. The goal of surgery is to get the medication to work better, and at a low enough dose that it’s not causing side effects. About 95 percent of the time after we do any type of surgical procedure for epilepsy, a patient’s seizures will go down to four or fewer a year, and more than 50% of patients are seizure-free after surgery.

Talk to your doctor to find out whether you’re a candidate for surgery, and for this laser procedure in particular. If it turns out that you require a different type of surgery, the good news is that the majority of the epilepsy procedures we perform now are done using minimally invasive approaches.

“To be a candidate for stereotactic laser ablation surgery, you must have epilepsy that's caused by damage to just a single area of the brain.”

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Published April 24th, 2019
Two physicians in full blue scrubs performing surgery

The care you need, the expertise you trust