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Epilepsy patch approved for use in the UK

Epilepsy patch approved for use in the UK

Added: 14 January 2013, 10:18

A new “patch” for epilepsy worn on the forehead while you sleep is now approved for use in the UK. It is called external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (eTNS) system, and it contains electrodes that send tiny pulses to the brain.  These pulses target the trigeminal nerve, which lies close to the skin on the forehead.  It is thought that the nerve connects to parts of the brain that may be involved in seizure activity.

In a recent (as yet unpublished) survey, looking at 50 people whose epilepsy was not controlled by medication, more than 40% of patients experienced a reduction in their symptoms. The device has also been shown to regulate and improve people's mood.  The eTNS system has been approved for use in the UK to treat epilepsy and serious depression.

The eTNS system is attached to a small stimulator worn around the waist.  Its tiny pulses target the major branches of the trigeminal nerve, which lies close to the skin on the forehead.  It is thought that these connect to parts of the brain involved in epileptic seizures. The trigeminal nerve is also believed to help regulate a person’s mood, and trials have shown that there can be a significant improvement in symptoms of depression.

Dr DeGiorgio, who helped develop the device in the US is quoted in an article in the Daily Telegraph as saying:  “Electrical pulses [from the patch] trigger sensory nerve impulses that travel along the trigeminal nerve and send the signal to a number of specific brain regions.” He notes that some regions of the brain show an increase in activity, “which we believe is central to the mechanism for improving mood, while other regions show a decrease in activity, which may be key to preventing seizures”.

In the same article Prof John Duncan, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, says: “A third of people affected by epilepsy in the UK are not controlled with medication. Brain surgery is not suitable for all and new treatment options are needed for the remainder.”

Prof Duncan also says that “Trigeminal stimulation offers an alternative, but we would need to see whether the benefit was maintained long-term."

This is welcome news for the 54,000 people in Scotland who live with epilepsy.