UNM Comprehensive Epilepsy Center
Dr. Bruce Fisch, a UNM neurologist and director of the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, talks with patient Claire Preble. The center, established in 2007, is the only one of its kind in New Mexico.
Credit: John Arnold

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Epilepsy Center – the only one of its kind in the state – has received high recognition for its ability to diagnose and treat patients with complex forms of the disorder.

The Level 4 designation from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC) indicates that UNM has the professional expertise and facilities to provide the highest-level care for patients living with epilepsy and seizures, said Dr. Bruce Fisch, a professor of neurology and the center’s medical director.

“It is an honor to have our program receive the NAEC's highest designation,” Fisch said. “While we continue to work to extend our expertise throughout the state and grow our program, this is a big step in the right direction.” 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders where the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed. The disorder can range from life-threatening and disabling to benign, and it has many possible causes. There are also many types of seizures.

In the U.S., about eight to 10 people a week die from epilepsy. About one in 100 people ­– some 20,000 New Mexicans – are living with the disorder.

“There is a dire need in this state and across the country for epilepsy specialists and care,” Fisch said, adding that epilepsy is the second-most common chronic illness among school-age children.

The UNM epilepsy center includes six neurologists who specialize in epilepsy, and it has the only epilepsy monitoring unit in the state. The center also has access to diagnostic resources – including an advanced neuroimaging and brain wave recording technology called magnetoencephalography – that are unavailable in other states such as Arizona, Utah and western Texas.  

“The leading medical institutions in those states have actually started referring patients here for such advanced diagnostic testing,” Fisch said.

While in most cases epilepsy cannot be cured, about two-thirds of patients can control their seizures with medication, diet, devices or surgery. While most seizures do not cause brain damage, doctors say it is important to receive treatment in a timely manner since the possibility for brain damage, or even death, increases in ongoing uncontrolled seizures.

UNM’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center’s mission is to provide state-of-the-art medical services for individuals with seizure disorders whose seizures fail to be completely stopped by medications, and to seek cures for epilepsy through innovation in research and medical care, Fisch said.

According to the NAEC, Level 4 epilepsy centers provide complex, intensive neurodiagnostics monitoring, as well as more extensive medical, neuropsychological and psychosocial treatment. These centers also offer a complete evaluation for epilepsy, surgery, including intracranial electrodes, and provide a broad range of surgical procedures for epilepsy.

Founded by physician leaders committed to setting a national agenda for quality epilepsy care, the NAEC has a membership of more than 200 specialized epilepsy centers located throughout the United States.