Controlling Seizures with Gold Bead Implants
by Karen Foster
Because of the frequency and severity of seizures and the seemingly hopeless prognosis for seizure control in some English Springers, many owners euthanize their epileptic Springers. It’s true that not all anticonvulsant medications control seizures in all epileptic dogs, and for certain dogs, nothing works. However, a little-known experimental procedure has been available since the mid-1970s that often, either alone or in combination with conventional anticonvulsant medication, eliminates or controls seizures where control was previously unsatisfactory or impossible. The procedure, known as gold bead implantation, is performed by some veterinarians who perform acupuncture.
WHAT ARE GOLD BEAD IMPLANTS?
Gold bead implantation is a permanent form of acupuncture. Using a syringe with a large-bore needle, a trained veterinarian can implant these pinhead-sized gold-plated metal beads in certain acupuncture points, providing long-term stimulation of the points. Unless surgically removed, the beads remain in place throughout the dog’s life. Gold is used because it is nonreactive with the body.
The first gold bead implants in the United States were performed during the early 1970s by Georgia veterinarian Dr. Grady Young. In 1975, Terry Durkes, DVM, of Marion, Indiana, began conducting clinical research on the implants and initially used them to treat seizure disorders and hip dysplasia. He now also uses the implants for other conditions, such as spondylosis, osteochondritis dissicans, Wobbler’s syndrome, and arthritis of knees and elbows.
On the basis of the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that a skilled acupuncturist can detect energy imbalances in a patient, Dr. Durkes uses a form of energy reading: a fluctuation in his own pulse as he moves his hand over a dog’s body indicates a point in which beads need to be implanted. Dr. Durkes implants at least three beads in each point. Placement is precise; misplacement of even one sixteenth of an inch from the desired acupuncture point renders the implants ineffective. Exactly how the gold bead implants work is not known, but Dr. Durkes believes the gold beads emit a minute positive electrical charge; conditions that respond well to the implants have excessive negative charges.
Many dogs bleed at the points in which the beads are implanted, and this is considered a positive sign. From the TCM perspective, seizures can be caused by too much internal heat (often from the liver), which creates wind, and seizures are a symptom of the excess wind. Bleeding at the implant sites indicates release of excess heat, increasing the probability that the implants are working effectively.
Dr. Durkes gives the following as his success rates for epilepsy (success rates for dogs who have cluster seizures are lower):
- 60% of dogs are *cured* - they no longer have seizures and no longer need phenobarbital (PB). Dogs taking potassium bromide must remain on that drug.
- 20% of dogs no longer have seizures but must continue to take reduced doses of PB.
- 20% of dogs continue to have seizures. However, some of these have fewer seizures and/or less severe seizures. For some dogs, of course, the gold beads are ineffective.
- 10%–20% of dogs who have another condition (i.e., vision problems, skin problems) might improve in that as well.
Dr. Durkes’ rates are based on owner follow-up. Other veterinarians have lower success rates.
Although some dogs return to Dr. Durkes for additional implants to “fine-tune” the results of the initial treatment, if gold beads are going to stop seizures, they usually work after the initial implants.
Preston is a black and white Springer born June 14, 1994, from three generations of my own breeding. His seizures began November 8, 1996, and at first came approximately every 19–35 days, then approximately every 16 days, followed immediately each time by pulmonary edema, a rare and life-threatening complication. His most severe seizure episode was a 25-hour cluster of approximately 30 seizures on April 2–3, 1997, followed by two days of disorientation, diarrhea, vomiting, severe dehydration, and other problems.
Deciding to Go for Gold Beads
My decision to take Preston to Dr. Durkes for gold bead implants evolved as Preston's seizures increased in frequency and severity despite increasing doses of PB. In addition, few of the Springers I have known or known about who had epilepsy survived to be older than 5 years of age; the others have either died during seizures, died from or been euthanized because of liver failure associated with PB, or been euthanized because of uncontrollable seizures.
My regular veterinarians supported my interest in calling Dr. Durkes, and on October 6, 1997, I made my initial call. At that time, he'd implanted only one other Springer, so he had no breed-specific success rates (as he does for German shepherds, Labs, Dalmatians, and a few other breeds), but he gave me the overall rates. He made no promises, but thought it might be worth a try given Preston's complications, his PB-associated elevated liver enzymes, and the frequency of fatalities among the epileptic Springers I knew about.
Preston's October 25 seizure, during the day and at the peak of his PB level, followed by heavy congestion and 6 minutes of unconsciousness, erased any reservations I still had about making the 10-hour trip to Indiana for the procedure. I called Dr. Durkes’ office on October 31 for an appointment, and we scheduled the procedure for Friday morning, November 7.
The Gold Bead Implant Procedure
Dr. Durkes' hospital is a one-vet practice in Marion (population: 32,000). His practice is about 30% acupuncture and 70% conventional veterinary medicine.
I gave him my log of Preston's seizures and answered his questions. His initial exam found imbalances at the gallbladder, heart, and lung points, and he detected a heart murmur. The murmur could possibly have been caused by the seizures or it could be causing or related to the pulmonary edema; in other words, Preston’s heart might be taking too long to restart after the seizure. He recommended an EKG when we returned home.
After Dr. Durkes anesthetized Preston, one of his veterinary technicians clipped Preston’s head and a 5-inch wide strip from his shoulders to his tail, then cleaned him with surgical scrub. Prep time took about 10 minutes.
Dr. Durkes began implanting the gold beads into Preston's head. The vet tech loaded each syringe with three beads, and Dr. Durkes injected all three into each point. Then he moved to Preston's back. Nearly all Preston's head points and most of his back points bled.
Dr. Durkes' method of determining by pulse measurement which points to implant enabled him to customize the implant procedure to Preston’s individual needs; he treated certain standard points as well. After finishing, he checked Preston repeatedly until he found no additional points that needed implanting. For Preston, the implant procedure lasted approximately 45 minutes. I counted about 42 needlesticks in Preston's back and about 18 in his head. Total cost for the procedure was $375.
On November 10, I took Preston to my vet for an EKG. She could not detect a heart murmur, and the EKG was normal.
LIFE AFTER THE IMPLANTS
Preston was “due” for a seizure the weekend he received the implants, but by November 11, 4 days later, he had not seized. Instead, he’d become a wild dog. At first I thought it was my imagination - he was sleeping less; not sitting as sloppily or falling up the stairs as frequently; chasing the other dogs all over the place; staring at me with his ears up, ready and waiting to DO something; climbing on the furniture (which is off limits!); curious and into everything as he was before the seizures started. When I spoke with Dr. Durkes on November 14 for our first scheduled follow-up, he confirmed that Preston should indeed have started feeling better almost immediately. The seizures and the PB take their toll, and the implants counteract their negative effects.
By December 5, four weeks post-implant, Preston felt absolutely fantastic - playful, inquisitive, alert, much more coordinated. I had not realized how much the seizures and the PB had taken out of him. On my second follow-up call, Dr. Durkes said that if Preston remained seizure-free for another two weeks, I could begin reducing his PB; the first reduction would be about 25%.
But this was not to be. After 55 seizure-free days, Preston seized on Friday, December 19, at 12:35 a.m.. I was supposed to have begun reducing his PB with that morning's dose.
Quality of Life
To fine-tune the results of the initial procedure, Dr. Durkes implanted additional beads into Preston on October 12, 1998, in Marion and on March 21, 1999, when he presented a gold bead implant seminar in the Atlanta area. Preston seized during the March procedure, enabling Dr. Durkes to locate blocked points that he would not otherwise have found. In addition to beads in new points, Dr. Durkes added up to 12 beads in previously implanted points.
Despite some setbacks and the need for continued medication, Preston looks and feels fantastic. The life-threatening pulmonary edema that accompanied each seizure has never returned. He’s bouncy and playful. During 1999, he even earned his Companion Dog title and his working certificate. There's no question the gold bead implants have immeasurably enhanced Preston’s overall health. And two years after the initial implants, it’s probably safe to say the procedure saved his life.
On September 9, 1999, Preston died from cardiac arrest during emergency surgery to locate and stop abdominal hemorrhaging of unknown cause. He had been seizure-free for nine weeks, two days, and during 1999 had totaled only six seizures on five days.
Special thanks to Jeri Petz, Lombard, Illinois, for allowing me to adapt her gold bead implant information; to Deb Rogstad, Denton, Texas, and to Jeri for sharing their dogs’ gold bead implant experiences with me; to Dr. Terry Durkes, Marion, Indiana, for reviewing this article for technical accuracy and for his special skill that gave Preston nearly two great years; and to my dogs’ veterinarians, Drs. Nancy Churchill and Bill Connolly, Snellville, Georgia, for their superb medical knowledge and their compassion, insight, and creativity.
Bell, Jerold. The proper use of genetic tests in making breeding decisions. A lecture presented to the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association in Seattle, Washington on February 28, 1998. Available at http://www.teleport.com/~ariel/engspr98.html. Accessed September 16, 1999.
Durkes, TE. Gold bead implants [Review]. Problems in Veterinary Medicine 1992;4:207–11.
Durkes, TE. Gold bead implants. In: AM Schoen, ed. Veterinary Acupuncture: Ancient Art to Modern Medicine. Goleta: American Veterinary Publications, 1994. 285--. Gilchrist, David. Veterinary acupuncture: an introduction. Available at http://www.altvetmed.com. Accessed September 16, 1999.
Raser, Ambuja. Acupuncture implants. AKC Gazette 1997;114(7):58.
Schwartz, Cheryl, DVM. Four paws, five directions: a guide to Chinese medicine for cats and dogs. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts Publishing, 1996.
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