Dr Santoshi Billakota & catamenial epilepsy

  • September 14, 2023
  • 4
In this article
Epileptologist Dr Santoshi Billakota

Meet Dr Santoshi Billakota, an epileptologist with a research interest in catamenial epilepsy. She spoke to us about all things misinformation, burnout and her career. Read her story below. 

Tell us about your career

I was born in India and grew up in the United Arab Emirates. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was 11. and went to UCLA for college, I started off as a biology major and became friends with a neuroscience major. It sounded very interesting. That’s when I knew I wanted to apply for medical school and my preferred speciality. I did medical school in the Caribbean, which a lot of people can't say they've done, it was really fun. I moved to NYC for my 2-year rotations, finally I came back to do my fellowship at Columbia University. 

In the end what drew me to neurology was that the brain was really cool and fascinating, the brain is so customized from person to person. I fell into epilepsy during my rotations. I liked the fact that seizures are treatable unlike some neurological conditions (for example, neurodegenerative conditions). With epilepsy you can do something about it. I have found that most people affected by epilepsy are in their 20s or 30s and want to learn more about their condition. There is a stigma that you can't lead a full life with epilepsy, and that's not true!

Read more: Facts about epilepsy myths

What misinformation is out there about epilepsy?

The biggest misconception is that patients with epilepsy can not have a “normal” life. What someone defines as normal to you could be different to me, what's more important is being able to live a full life. The vast majority of people with epilepsy lead a full life. Many women with epilepsy feel like their life is over. I’ve heard many voice concerns with me such as ‘I can't have kids’ or ‘no one's going to love me’, but most of my female patients go on to find love and have children. It might require more planning to have children. But the main focus should be on a patient’s quality of life.

The importance of understanding catamenial epilepsy

At the moment there is not a lot of research into catamenial epilepsy. Most people with catamenial epilepsy will say their seizures happen around their period, but it’s really hard to study it in a scientific manner. The guidelines put in place in the 90s and early 2000s still exist. There is not a lot of medication for this type of epilepsy, if the seizures fall around the menstrual cycle all we can do is to adjust the medications. Without accurate data, it’s difficult to fund specific research - which is why there is limited recent research into the topic. But there is currently research ongoing such as with the Human Epilepsy Project, it will be interesting to see what comes from that.

Using social media to raise awareness

Social media takes time and effort, I’ll do it when I’m off for the day or if I’ve finished early for the day. Currently there aren’t many neurologists using social media in this way, but the response has been great so far. I don’t get many negative comments, which is huge. There is a need for it and people are glad to get this information in digestible content. The subjects I talk about are what their doctor should be educating them on anyway. 

I get a lot of messages thanking me for talking about the condition, a few have said that they didn't know what was going on and advocated for their doctor to do an EEG or an MRI - these tests can totally change the trajectory of someone's life.

You can follow @drbillakota on Instagram and TikTok.

Advice to newly diagnosed patient

It depends a lot on where you live, but the Epilepsy Foundation is a great resource for information on the condition and to find doctors. Most states have their own branch, such as metro NYC. They build a community and you can speak to other people living with epilepsy or caring for someone with epilepsy. It's always nice when you've been diagnosed to know that you are not alone. having that external support from someone who knows what you're going through. 

Learn more: How to find epilepsy support groups

Experiencing burnout as a healthcare professional

This is something a lot of people within the healthcare industry are speaking up about, especially since post-COVID things have not slowed down. My advice would be to figure out what gives you the most happiness, and what gives you the most burnout. For me, I love seeing patients. I was seeing many patients, but the paperwork took away from the enjoyment. That's why I moved to telehealth. I don't want to bring my work home. I now have time to do stuff I enjoy, like social media or this interview. I enjoy medicine too much to leave. 

Social media has been really helpful for me as I’m passionate about raising awareness and sharing knowledge. For others, focus on the stuff you enjoy, if it's doing research or working part time- do it! But I know it’s easier said than done. 

Outside of the clinic you can find me

I live in New York city, there is a lot to do! I like to go out to eat and to concerts, I used to be an avid runner. In 2019 I did the New York marathon - which was so hard! I got back into running recently with the nice weather. I enjoy writing and I write for some medical blogs. But sometimes it’s nice to lounge around too.

How to book an appointment with Dr Santoshi Billakota

I am currently taking a break from my outpatient clinic and doing inpatient neurology. I’m not sure I want to work for a big company going forward. The best way to reach me is my website here (drbillakotamd.com). Patients can contact me to find out if I’m the right fit for them. If not, I can help them find a neurologist in their area. The neurology community is small, so I’ll know others.

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