Each year, approximately 200,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy; it’s the most common neurological disorder affecting Americans, with about one percent of people living with the condition. Epilepsy can be a minor nuisance, a condition that needs to be monitored but can be managed, a debilitating illness, or anything in between, depending on the frequency and severity of seizures. In about two-thirds of cases, epileptic seizures can be managed with medication, but it can’t be cured.
However, there are long term treatments that may be more effective at managing seizures than medication. Brain implants can detect the electrical activity of a seizure before it happens, and generate electrical activity to counter it. Another device uses electricity to stimulate the vagus nerve in the neck. Though this is only a partial solution, it can help reduce the number of seizures over time in conjunction with medical treatment.
In some cases, epileptic people may be good candidates for surgery. When the seizures take place in a localized area in the brain that isn’t responsible for a vital function, removing that portion of tissue can be an effective way of stopping the seizures. Naturally, both performing the surgery and determining if would even be safe is not done lightly, and because of the restrictions on when the surgery can be performed, it isn’t often feasible for the most severe cases.
However, less-invasive surgical techniques are being developed that can eliminate lesions that are triggering seizures without affecting the parts of the brain surrounding them, minimizing loss of function. The technique, which uses magnetic resonance imaging to direct lasers to the affected area, was adapted from non-invasive cancer surgery techniques that destroy tumors without affecting the surrounding tissue.
Lifestyle-based approaches can also help reduce seizures, or even prevent someone who is at risk—someone with a family history of epilepsy, or who has had meningitis or other brain infections—from developing the disorder in the first place. Head injuries can lead to epilepsy, so wear a helmet for high-risk activities such as bicycling, skiing, or riding a motorcycle. Working out can help keep your brain healthy, as can getting enough sleep; these may not eliminate seizures, but they can reduce them.