Epilepsy Surgery

Surgery to treat epilepsy has been an accepted practice for more than 50 years. Northwestern Medicine is staffed by experienced, board-certified neurosurgeons trained in epilepsy surgery. There are two types of surgery to treat epilepsy, including:

  • Temporal lobectomy or cortical resection: The most common form of epilepsy surgery is a lobectomy or cortical resection. All or part of a left or right lobe may be removed. The temporal lobe is the most common site of simple and complex partial seizures. The chance of becoming seizure-free after surgery is about 70 percent for the first 2 years and 50 to 60 percent for the patient's lifetime. Patients who have good surgical outcomes have better cognitive and memory function than patients who do not have surgery.
  • Corpus callosotomy: This surgery separates the two hemispheres of the brain and cuts the broad band of nerve fibers joining them. We may use this procedure when it is not possible to identify a single location or when removing a single section would cause a significant disability. Uncontrolled generalized seizures, especially atonic seizures (drop attacks), may also be treated with this type of surgery. Some types of seizure activity on one or both sides will continue after the operation, but the effects are generally less severe. The operation may be done in two steps. The first operation partially separates the two halves of the brain, but leaves some connections in place. If the generalized seizures stop, no further surgery is done. If generalized seizures continue, a second operation completes the separation.

After the operation

Most patients are monitored in intensive care for 24 to 48 hours. Patients stay 4 to 5 days in the hospital before going home to recuperate. Most patients have a slight headache for a week or so after they go home. They may also tire easily for several weeks, but are encouraged to take walks and go out. Patients will remain on the same anti-epileptic drugs they were taking before surgery. If the patient remains seizure-free for 1 to 2 years, medications may be reduced over time in selected patients.

Patients and family should be realistic about the benefits, the risks, and the chances of complete or partial control of seizures. Possible complications of surgery include death, bleeding, stroke and infection. Patients may also experience adverse effects if areas of the brain are removed. These may be temporary or permanent.

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