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Are Your 'Forgetful Moments' Actually Small Seizures?

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - As we hurry about our busy lives, unusual occurrences can be overlooked. For instance, have you ever had your brain just pause?

"Glitches," laughs Colleen Arnold, of Weatherford, "I guess, a good way of describing them is brain farts!"

For years, Arnold dealt with the unexplained mental 'pauses.' But, over time, they became more frequent and more severe.

"We were having dinner with some friends and I locked completely up in the middle of sentence! And everybody was staring at me [asking] 'Colleen—are you alright? Colleen?' After about 10 seconds, I came out of it, and I said 'I'm okay. I'm back. Everything's cool.' And my husband said, 'what in the world was that?' And I said, 'that was one of my glitches.'"

Arnold's  husband, Dennis, insisted they see a doctor.  The couple came away from the appointment with a surprising diagnosis: epilepsy.

"When we first talked to our primary care doctor he said, `you would be surprised how many people come in and tell me this story' and he said, 'really and truly, there's probably a lot of people driving today that don't realize that they're having seizures.'"

Arnold stopped driving out of concern that she could cause an accident.

"The image that we all have when we think about epilepsy is somebody shaking all about and dropping to the floor, which is not true, " explained Joseph Beshay, MD, a neurosurgeon at Medical City Dallas. "Especially when you talk about temporal lobe epilepsy."

According to Dr. Beshay, epilepsy is often misdiagnosed. "I've treated patients before that have been diagnosed with panic attacks for years, and they didn't have panic attacks—they had temporal lobe seizures."

When medications provided only temporary relief, Arnold opted for surgery: a temporal lobectomy.

Speaking of the procedure, Dr. Beshay said it helps get patients back to their old selves again.

"We removed the portion of her temporal lobe that's responsible for her seizures. The operation is done in such a way to be able to remove the zone that's producing seizures, without damaging or harming her. So after the surgery she came out of the operation 'Mrs. Arnold.'"

According to Dr. Beshay, surgery is not an option for every patient, and he encourages patients to make the decision carefully, as all surgeries are accompanied by risk.

"I didn't let her sign up for surgery the first time she saw me. I insisted she go away, go home, think about it and come back and ask me more questions. And when she was comfortable with it, we signed her up."

Arnold admits that she was nervous about having brain surgery. But, just days before the scheduled operation, she says she become convinced that she'd made the right decision.

"I was coloring with my granddaughter and I went numb all over my body." Her husband had to pick her up and help her to a nearby sofa. "I thought, 'I can't even be a grandmother to my grandchildren doing this.' I've got to try something."

Arnold says she woke up from the delicate surgery, feeling like a new person. "I woke up happy. It's so hard to describe; but, the difference was night and day."

Since the surgery in January, Arnold says the 'silent seizures' have stopped—and her energy has returned.

"Oh, I'm so glad I did it. It was scary; but, I wouldn't change it for anything. I thank God every day. 2014 is just my year."

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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