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Talking With Your Doctor About Epilepsy Treatment

By

Hedy Marks, MPH

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Struggles with Normal Conversation

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes frequent seizures. Seizures occur when there is a sudden, abnormal burst of electrical activity in the brain. Seizure symptoms vary and can last a few seconds to a few minutes. They may include:  



  • Blank staring or rapid blinking
  • Body stiffening
  • Convulsions and loss of consciousness
  • Jerking movements of the arms and legs 
  • Lip smacking

There is no cure for epilepsy. However, there are treatments that may prevent seizures or reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. Medication, surgery, and dietary changes are options. Your doctor will tailor your treatment plan to your needs based on the type of seizures you have, your age, and other factors. 

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by seizures—but it can affect everyone in different ways. Do you know the facts?

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 6, 2015

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

One of the most important pieces of epilepsy treatment is open communication with your doctor. Here are topics to discuss with your doctor about the best course of treatment for you.

Describe Your Symptoms

After your initial diagnosis, your doctor will want to know when you have seizure, what it looks like, and what was happening just before it began. For example, did you feel sudden panic or fear or did things look or sound differently just before your seizure? 

Ask your loved ones to carefully take note of your symptoms during a seizure. If you are taking anti-seizure medicine, also called antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drugs, tell your doctor about any side effects you experience. Side effects may include dizziness, trouble concentrating, tiredness, upset stomach, weight gain or loss, depression, and allergic reaction.

Explore Your Treatment Options

The goal of epilepsy treatment is to prevent seizures, or greatly reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures. Treatment options fall into four main categories: medicine, surgery, devices and diet.

Medicine

Medicine is the primary treatment for epilepsy. Antiepileptic medicines can limit or prevent seizures in most people. The type and dose of medicine will depend on the type of seizures you have, your age, other medical conditions, and medicine side effects. 

It may take a bit of trial and error before your doctor finds the right medicine for you. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully when taking these medicines. To be effective, antiepileptic medicines must be taken every day exactly as prescribed. If your current treatment isn’t helping, your doctor can change the dose, try a different medicine, or recommend a different type of treatment.

Surgery

When medicine isn’t helping, surgery to remove the seizure-producing areas of the brain may be an option. Neurosurgeons consider brain surgery to treat epilepsy for people who have:

  • Tried standard medicines without success or developed intolerable side effects from the medicines
  • Seizures that always start in just one part of the brain
  • Seizures in a part of the brain that can be removed without affecting critical functions, such as speech, memory or sight
  • Seizures as a result of a growth or lesion that can be removed safely

Devices

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is another type of surgery that can lessen seizure frequency. In VNS, a surgeon implants a small device under the skin in the chest. The device is connected to the vagus nerve in the neck. Short bursts of electrical energy are sent from the device through the vagus nerve to the brain. Epilepsy experts are actively researching the use of other electronic devices in the treatment of seizures and epilepsy.

Diet

Lastly, some people, especially children, may benefit by eating a very high fat, low carbohydrate diet. It is called the ketogenic diet. The diet tricks the body into starvation mode where it burns stored fat for energy instead of glucose. Researchers don’t know why the diet prevents seizures, but studies have shown that it works for some children. 

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: May 27, 2016

© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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