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of everyone affected by epilepsy

Conference discusses epilepsy diagnosis through patients' language

9 February, 2006

Neurologists,
linguists and epilepsy experts from across Europe have met to discuss
new research indicating that the risk of diagnosing epilepsy
incorrectly can be reduced when doctors analyse the language patients
use to describe their seizures.

It is hoped that this new approach to diagnosis, which was pioneered in Germany and is now being researched at the University of Sheffield's Academic Neurology Unit,
will help doctors distinguish better between people with epilepsy -
which is caused by excessive electrical discharges in the brain - and
people with non-epileptic seizures (NES) which can be caused by
emotional trauma.

The
new method of diagnosis helps doctors to distinguish between patients
with epilepsy and NES by giving patients the opportunity to describe
their seizure experience freely and by showing doctors how to listen to
what patients are saying. Using a process called Conversation Analysis,
researchers have found that people having seizures talk about them in
one way if they're caused by epilepsy and in another way if they are a
symptom of psychopathology. For example, a patient with epilepsy will
tend to volunteer many details about what it felt like to have a
seizure and how they will try to 'fight it off', whereas patients with
NES talk about their seizures in terms of a complete memory loss which
is more similar to amnesia linked to traumatic experiences.

Dr Markus Reuber, from the Academic Neurology Unit, said:

"Diagnosing
epilepsy as opposed to non-epileptic seizures is always difficult as
there is no single clinical feature that would allow a definite
diagnosis one way or the other. However, we hope that through
developing the use of Conversation Analysis as a diagnostic tool we
will be able to ensure that people suffering from seizures will get the
best and most appropriate treatment as quickly as possible.

"Using
patients' unique expertise of how they experience seizures may also
help with treatment. If patients feel that their doctor has taken them
seriously when they described their problem, they are more likely to
accept the doctor's assessment and recommendations."