Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures (convulsions) over time. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behavior. Epilepsy may be due to a medical condition or an injury that affects the brain, or the cause may be unknown.

The board certified neurologists at the Edward-Elmhurst Health Epilepsy Clinic will complete a thorough medical history and exam, and perform appropriate diagnostic tests, to determine if you or a loved one has epilepsy. If so, we’ll work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan based on your unique needs.

To schedule an appointment, call the Edward-Elmhurst offices in Warrenville at 630-836-9121, Crest Hill at 815-838-2888, or Elmhurst at 331-221-9095.

Causes of epilepsy

Some causes of epilepsy include:

  • Low oxygen during birth
  • Head injuries that occur during birth or from accidents during youth or adulthood
  • Brain tumors
  • Genetic conditions that result in brain injury, such as tuberous sclerosis
  • Infections such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Stroke or any other type of damage to the brain
  • Abnormal levels of substances such as sodium or blood sugar

Epilepsy seizures usually begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age. In those affected, there may be a family history of seizures or epilepsy.

Epilepsy symptoms

Symptoms vary from person to person. Some people may have simple staring spells, while others have violent shaking and loss of alertness. The type of seizure depends on the part of the brain affected and the cause of epilepsy.

Most of the time, seizures are similar to the previous ones. Some people with epilepsy have a strange sensation (such as tingling, smelling an odor that isn't actually there, or emotional changes) before each seizure. This is called an aura.

Epilepsy diagnosis

When you visit our Epilepsy Clinic, one of our doctors will perform a physical exam, which will include a detailed look at the brain and nervous system.

We’ll typically perform an EEG (electroencephalogram) to check the electrical activity in the brain. People with epilepsy will often have abnormal electrical activity seen on this test. In some cases, the test may show the area in the brain where the seizures start. The brain may appear normal after a seizure or between seizures.

We may also perform a head CT or MRI scan to find the cause and location of the problem in the brain.

Treatment for epilepsy

Depending on your individual situation, treatment for epilepsy may involve surgery or medication. If epilepsy seizures are due to a tumor, abnormal blood vessels, or bleeding in the brain, surgery to treat these disorders may make the seizures stop. Medication to prevent seizures, called anticonvulsants, may reduce the number of future seizures.

Epilepsy that does not get better after two or three anti-seizure drugs have been tried is called "medically refractory epilepsy." In this case, surgery may be helpful. We may perform surgery to remove the abnormal brain cells causing the seizures, or we may recommend surgery to place a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS)—a device similar to a heart pacemaker—to help reduce the number of seizures.

A vagus nerve stimulator is a device implanted under the skin. A wire under the skin connects the device to electrodes implanted in your brain or attached to nerves that go to your brain. The device can be programed to produce electrical signals which help prevent the electrical bursts in the brain that cause seizures.

Some people with epilepsy may be able to reduce or even stop their anti-seizure medicines after having no seizures for several years. Certain types of childhood epilepsy go away or improve with age, usually in the late teens or 20s.

For many people, epilepsy is a lifelong condition. In these cases, the anti-seizure drugs need to be continued. There is a very low risk of sudden death with epilepsy. However, serious injury can occur if a seizure occurs during driving or when operating equipment.


Generally, there is no known way to prevent epilepsy. However, proper diet and sleep, and avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol, may decrease the likelihood of triggering seizures in people with epilepsy.