Self-Care Tips for Epilepsy


Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN    

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Considering how common epilepsy is, it’s surprising we don’t hear many people talking about it. About 1 out of 26 people in the United States has some form of epilepsy. It’s the fourth most common neurological condition after migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Once you have a diagnosis of epilepsy, you often can control the seizures with medication, but they don’t work for everyone. When this happens, other treatments, such as surgery, nerve stimulation therapy, and some alternative therapies (like behavior therapy) may be options.

Regardless of the type of therapy you receive, self-care or self-management of your epilepsy can play an important role in your overall health and perhaps in the number of seizures you experience.

Self-care covers a lot of territory—it means everything from knowing and understanding your epilepsy to taking care of yourself both physically and psychologically.

Working With Your Medical Team

The first step in taking control of your care is developing a good relationship with your doctors and nurses, who can help you better understand your epilepsy and how to live with it.

Keeping track of your questions in a journal will help you remember what to ask during your appointments. And if you write down responses to those questions while you’re at your appointment, you don’t have to worry about forgetting what you’ve been told.

Some other things to keep track of in your journal include:

  • How often you have a seizure.

  • How other people describe your seizures.

  • The name, dosage, and how often you take your medication.

  • Any side effects you think are caused by your medications.

  • Any triggers you believe may be affecting your seizures.

  • How you feel after a seizure.

  • If there have been any changes in the type of seizures you have including how long they last, how often they happen, and how you feel after the seizure.

Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Seizures from epilepsy are caused by disturbances in your brain’s electrical activity. Medical treatment can help control seizures in many cases. You can’t yet predict when you’re going to have a seizure, but there are some choices you can make that may reduce your risk of having a seizure or the number of seizures.

Self-care for epilepsy includes:

  • Getting enough sleep. Not getting enough rest could lower your threshold for having seizures. Being well rested may help protect you from many stresses.

  • Eating a healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet is always a good idea, but it’s even more important when you have a chronic illness. A diet that doesn’t meet your nutritional requirements adds stress to your body, and stress is a known seizure trigger.

  • Following a special diet. Some people who have epilepsy that doesn’t respond to medication may try to reduce their seizures by following a ketogenic diet, a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Talk with your doctor first about prescribing a ketogenic diet before trying it yourself or for your child. People who follow this diet should be monitored by a dietitian.  

  • Avoiding exposure to known triggers. It's not always possible to avoid seizure triggers, but it’s best not to take chances. For example, bright, flashing lights—like strobe lights—are a known trigger for many people with epilepsy. If you’re particularly sensitive to flashing lights, this might extend to some types of video games, and even some types of TV programs, such as flashy cartoons.

  • Not smoking. Smoking can increase your risk of having seizures, and it can cause other health issues.

  • Limit alcohol consumption. Consuming three or more alcoholic beverages per day greatly increases the risk of seizure, and that same risk continues up to 48 hours during alcohol withdrawal.

  • Being physically active. Discuss with your doctor the best types of physical activity that are right for you because studies show that being active may help reduce seizure frequency in some people with epilepsy.

  • Learning relaxation techniques. It’s not clear if relaxation techniques, such as meditation, have a direct effect on seizures, but learning how to relax will decrease your stress level. Stress reduction helps your overall well-being, which is always a good thing.

Doing your part to manage epilepsy may likely give you a better sense of control of your life. Speak with your healthcare team about these and other lifestyle changes you can make. They may have specific recommendations for you based on their experience and expertise in treating epilepsy.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 28, 2017

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Epilepsy. Mayo Clinic.
  2. Epilepsy Statistics. Epilepsy Foundation.
  3. Managing My Seizures. Epilepsy Foundation.
  4. Lifestyle Changes to Manage Epilepsy. Tulane University.
  5. The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  6. Ketogenic Diet. Epilepsy Foundation.
  7. Epilepsy. University of Maryland Medical Center.
  8. Gandey A. Smoking Increases Seizures and Risk for ALS. Medscape Nurses. November 25, 2009.
  9. Arida RM, Cavalheiro EA, da Silva AC, Scorza FA. Physical activity and epilepsy: proven and predicted benefits. Sports Med. 2008;38(7):607-15.

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