The third most common neurological disorder, epilepsy affects more than three million Americans. Epilepsy cannot usually be cured, though, particularly if the condition is caused by a brain tumor, removal of the tumor, the lesion, or the affected area may well result in a complete recovery. This is a drastic solution normally reserved for the most intractable cases. In most cases doctors and patients work to keep the seizures under control.
Some lifestyle changes appear to be helpful. A low-carb diet has been reported to lower the frequency of seizures in adults, and a ketogenic diet, in which fat is substituted for carbohydrates, forcing the body to rely on it for fuel, is a common therapeutic diet for epilepsy in children. Because the ketogenic diet needs to be carefully planned to ensure the child is getting proper nutrition, it is typically used only when the epilepsy doesn’t respond to medical treatments.
Many patients find it helpful to get enough sleep and avoid stress. In addition, tobacco, drugs, and alcohol can exacerbate epilepsy and make you more prone to seizures.
Often, medication is necessary to fully control seizures. Finding the right medication can require some degree of trial and error, but your doctor can use your age, medical history, and seizure history to figure out a good starting point, and in as many as half of all cases the first medication tried is one that works. The goal of treatment is no seizures and no side effects, because you are likely to have to be on medication the rest of your life—missing a dose can bring on seizures.
Although many people can be free of seizures with existing medications, research in ongoing into better treatments which may help more people. About a third of epilepsy patients cannot be completely treated medically without side effects.
One new treatment being investigated is called a responsive stimulation device. This is a small device implanted directly in the brain that detects abnormal electrical activity. The device is designed to deliver small amounts of electrical stimulation to suppress the abnormal activity before a seizure strikes, a process called deep brain stimulation.
If you have epilepsy, consult your doctor to create a treatment plan that works for you. It is often possible to control the condition and lead a more or less normal life.