Epilepsy is generally referred to as a life-long condition, meaning most people, once diagnosed, remain epileptic for the rest of their lives. Depending on the type of seizures you have and the frequency of them, epilepsy can disrupt your day-to-life and uncontrolled seizures can prevent you from doing normal things like going out, going to work, and socialising. Some types of seizures can also be dangerous to your physical health, so it’s important your epilepsy is treated to prevent harm.
At Dementech, we have a team of epilepsy specialists who can diagnose epilepsy, guide you through living with epilepsy, and determine the best form of treatment to help you better manage your condition. We believe everyone should be able to lead a normal life that isn’t controlled by seizures.
In this blog put together by our specialists, we’re going to detail the treatment options for epilepsy to give you a better understanding of how your condition might be managed.
Can Epilepsy be Treated?
There are several types of treatment that may be used to manage your epilepsy and reduce the severity or frequency of your seizures. The treatment you undertake will depend on a range of factors, with the type of seizures you have and any potential triggers being the main indicators.
Epilepsy can affect different parts of the brain which means the treatment that one person undertakes might not be suitable for another. Your doctor will work closely with you to determine the best treatment option for your case, with the aim being to prevent seizures or stop them completely.
Types of Epilepsy Treatment
If your GP thinks you might have epilepsy, they will refer you to a specialist who will carry out a range of tests to confirm whether or not you have it, and if so, what the cause may be. For a lot of people, the cause is unknown, but sometimes, epilepsy can be caused by a brain injury or a fault with a particular part of the brain, and this can make it easier to identify a targeted treatment.
Even if a cause isn’t identified, there are still lots of treatment options available that can help to control seizures, including the following:
Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)
Anti-epileptic drugs are the most common and one of the most effective treatments for epilepsy. They don’t cure epilepsy, but they can prevent seizures by altering chemical levels in your brain and mitigating abnormal electrical activity. Some of the most widely prescribed types of epilepsy medication are:
- Sodium valproate
How old you are, the types of seizures you have, and whether you want to have children will influence the type of antiepileptic drugs you’re prescribed. With regards to having children, some types of seizure medications can affect unborn babies, so it’s important to speak to your GP about this if you want to start a family.
You will usually start on a low dose of an AED and gradually build up to a higher dosage until you have fewer seizures. Sometimes, medication can stop seizures completely, but this isn’t the case for everyone. If one type of AED doesn’t mitigate your epilepsy, your GP may try you on one of the other types of anti-epileptic medications until they find one that is able to successfully decrease seizures. That being said, some people with epilepsy find that medication fails and has no effect on the frequency or length of their epileptic seizures, but if you have newly diagnosed epilepsy, this will typically be one of the first treatments you are prescribed.
AEDs are typically taken every day and come in the form of capsules, tablets, and liquid medicines. The thought of taking medication forever can be daunting, but not all epileptics are on AEDs permanently.
If you have been on medication to control your epilepsy for several years and you haven’t had any seizures, it might be possible for you to come off your AEDs. This will be determined by your GP, and if they think you can come off them, the dose will slowly be reduced. If you come off AEDs immediately, you may be at risk of having a seizure, so any medication alterations have to be done gradually.
Some AEDs can cause side effects such as:
- Hair loss
Symptoms like feeling drunk or getting a rash are more serious and could indicate you’re not reacting well to your medication or the dosage is too high, so you need to make sure you speak to your epilepsy specialist if you notice these side effects. However, it’s important you don’t just stop taking anti-seizure medications, because doing so could trigger seizures to occur.
Another treatment that can be used to treat epilepsy is brain surgery. This is major surgery and is only an option for those who can’t control their epilepsy with AEDs, and whose epilepsy is caused by a fault in a small area of the brain that can be safely removed without causing any adverse side effects. Brain surgery is one of the most effective treatments for people with epilepsy and can enable them to live completely seizure free, but suitability for surgery depends on a wide range of factors.
The type of epilepsy you have and any other health conditions you may suffer from will be taken into account when deciding if you’re a candidate.
Recovering from surgical treatment can take months, and you may experience memory loss, mood swings, or problems with your vision. Your doctor will be able to weigh up the risk factors with you and decide if you’re a suitable candidate for epilepsy surgery.
Vagus nerve stimulation
If AEDs don’t work for you and you’re not a candidate for surgery, you might be able to try vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). This involves placing a pacemaker-like machine under the skin which connects to the vagus nerve in your neck. The machine regularly sends electrical bursts which can change electrical signals in your brain, therefore reducing the severity and frequency of your seizures.
It can take up to two years for vagus nerve stimulation to have an impact on your seizures. VNS doesn’t stop seizures altogether, so you may still need to take AEDs, but if VNS is successful, the dose of AEDs you’re prescribed may be reduced.
The battery in a vagus nerve stimulator machine can last for up to 10 years, so it might be that after 10 years you have to have a new one fitted if it proves to be an effective seizure control method for you.
Ketogenic diets have been used for more than 100 years to treat epilepsy. A ketogenic is high in fat and low in carbs, and the amount of protein you consume is tightly controlled. The aim is to encourage the body to get its energy from ketones (fat) instead of glucose.
This can reduce seizures because it’s thought that the brain uses energy from glucose to induce a seizure. If there is little glucose available, the brain has to get its energy from fat, and this can prevent it from creating seizures.
A ketogenic diet essentially tricks your brain into thinking you’re starving or fasting in order to encourage it to use fat stores. For this reason, if you’re put on a ketogenic diet, you will be closely monitored by a dietician to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
Ketogenic diets are mostly used for children whose epilepsy can’t be controlled effectively by AEDs, but adults may also be put on it if multiple other types of epilepsy treatment have failed and they fit the criteria to be safely put on it.
If your epilepsy has a confirmed trigger (such as flashing lights) that is responsible for seizure onset, one of the ways you can treat it is to avoid that specific trigger where possible. Of course, this might not be an option for everyone because some triggers (like menstrual periods) can’t be avoided, but you can better prepare yourself in case you have a seizure and alter your routine slightly to minimise the dangers associated with seizure disorders.
Can Epilepsy be Cured?
It’s widely agreed that epilepsy can’t be cured, but some people find that epilepsy treatment stops their seizures entirely. This is wholly dependent on the patient, the type of epilepsy they have, the type of seizures they have, and the treatments that are available to them. Not everyone will be able to completely stop their seizures, but most people with epilepsy can reduce their seizure frequency and the severity of their seizures under a guided treatment plan.
Treating your Epilepsy at Dementech
With the right treatment options, people with epilepsy can live normal lives that are barely affected by their condition. If you or someone you know has epilepsy and you’re seeking treatment advice, Dementech’s team of epilepsy specialists can help. Please book an appointment with us to discuss your situation further and find out more about how your epilepsy can be managed.