Identifying Epilepsy


Epilepsy is a seizure disorder characterized by having two or more “unprovoked” seizures, says
Dr. Mary L. Zupanc, CHOC neurologist and epilepsy specialist. Epilepsy typically begins in infancy or early childhood, and the sooner the condition is recognized, the more effective the long-term treatment. “The developing brain is much more susceptible to the consequences of recurring seizures because babies’ brains are not fully developed. So the brain can be hard-wired for the seizures to continue. Medical or surgical intervention at an early age can stop the seizures and reverse the process,” explains Dr. Zupanc.


It’s important to diagnose epilepsy early, identify the specific epilepsy syndrome and get the child on medication or a treatment plan as soon as possible. The child’s seizure history is as important as testing because patients will often have normal test results, says Dr. Zupanc. This does not exclude the possibility of epilepsy.


Several tests can provide more information, according to Dr. Zupanc. They include an EEG (electroencephalogram), which records the brain’s continuous electrical activity; long-term video EEG monitoring if epilepsy surgery is being considered; and an MRI, which uses large magnets and a special computer to take very clear pictures of the child’s brain to help identify the cause of the epilepsy. Says Dr. Zupanc, “All these things can be helpful. When we take the child’s history and family history, consider the development of the child, the physical exam and tests, we may be able to diagnose the specific epilepsy syndrome. This helps determine what type of therapy will work best and answer the question, ‘Will my child outgrow this?’”

Meet Dr. Zupanc - CHOC Neurologist and Epilepsy Specialist

Dr. Mary L. Zupanc serves as the chair of CHOC’s neurology department and the division chief of neurology at CHOC and UCI. She also is the director of CHOC’s Pediatric Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. An internationally recognized expert, Dr. Zupanc has been instrumental in developing comprehensive pediatric epilepsy programs at the Mayo Clinic, Columbia University and the New York University School of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency at the University of Washington and UCLA and her pediatric neurology fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Zupanc received additional training in advanced epilepsy at the University of Wisconsin, UCLA and Stanford University.

Dr. Zupanc’s philosophy of care: “I’m passionate about my patients. I strive to give them the best possible care and provide the best possible options. My goals include providing excellent clinical care, educating the next generation of doctors and engaging in clinical research.”

UCLA School of Medicine

Neurology with Special Qualifications in Child Neurology
Clinical Neurophysiology

Dr. Mary Zupanc

Kara’s Story: A Journey with Epilepsy

Heidi Sexton knew her young epileptic daughter, Kara, needed more help. Anti-seizure medications didn’t help, hospital visits were frequent, and seizures and tantrums continued.

“It was time,” Heidi recalled. “I went in to the next doctor’s appointment with my questions: What else can we try? This isn’t working.”

Kara's Story

Epilepsy: Dr. Zupanc

In this segment from American Health Journal, Mary Zupanc, MD, explains the condition of epilepsy.

Dispelling Fears about Epilepsy Surgery

Evidence shows that more than 70 percent of patients with seizures may benefit from surgical intervention. However, only a handful of these patients will have surgery because the procedure is feared, misunderstood or put off as a last resort. In reality, surgery is often more effective than any other treatment.

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