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New study shows lack of patients undergoing epilepsy surgery

Image of an Operating Room

World Purple Day, celebrated on March 26, is a global initiative to raise awareness about epilepsy. Medically intractable epilepsy is one form of the disorder where patients experience seizures that do not respond to drug therapies.

Evidence shows that surgery is the best option for eligible patients with medically intractable epilepsy. However, a recent study, led by Lawson Health Research Institute’s Dr. Jorge Burneo, shows that fewer than 2 per cent of Ontario patients undergo the procedure. 

Dr. Burneo performed a retrospective study of Ontario patients diagnosed with medically intractable epilepsy between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2010. This was a population-based study, meaning it studied all Ontario patients whose health care encounters are anonymously recorded in linkable databases held at the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

Dr. Burneo’s study identified 10,661 patients with medically intractable epilepsy. Only 234 patients (2.2 per cent) were fully assessed for epilepsy surgery while 124 (1.2 per cent) actually underwent surgery. Of the 10,661 patients, 12% died within two years of diagnosis.

“Consideration for epilepsy surgery is the recommended standard of care,” said Dr. Burneo. “There is strong evidence that shows epilepsy surgery results in better outcomes. However, evaluation for epilepsy surgery and the procedure itself are not being utilized to their full potential.”

Dr. Burneo suspects that a lack of awareness and misconceptions about risks versus benefits is why epilepsy surgery is so underutilized. In addition, Ontario lacks programs that can evaluate patients and perform the surgery, with only a few programs for adults and children.

“We need to raise awareness about the benefits of epilepsy surgery,” said Dr. Burneo. “Because of our findings, the Ontario government is now funding new beds in epilepsy units across the province. We hope this will help to raise awareness and increase the number of patients who consider this treatment.”

This is one example of how Lawson Health Research Institute is working to make Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter. Dr. Burneo’s study is published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found here: http://www.neurology.org/content/86/1/72