Complementary treatments may be used alongside epilepsy medicines. They don’t replace epilepsy medicines.
Some people tell us that they find complementary treatments can help their epilepsy. Other people with epilepsy want to try complementary treatments for things not related to epilepsy. This information explains what some of the most used complementary treatments are, and whether there is any evidence about their usefulness in treating epilepsy. It looks at whether these treatments can be good for general wellbeing. It also looks at whether they shouldn’t be used by someone with epilepsy.
These are some of the more commonly used of complementary treatments.
Acupuncture is a treatment that involves having very fine needles put in particular parts of your body. These needles stimulate your nerves and muscles, which produces endorphins. Endorphins are natural pain-relieving chemicals, which can also make you feel good.
Aromatherapy is a type of treatment that uses essential oils to improve a person's health or mood.
Biofeedback is a technique that involves using a computer programme to control bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate or brainwave patterns.
Herbal medicines – these are used to treat a variety of different health conditions.
There are lots of different types of massage but they all involve rubbing or stroking the head or soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles. Massage can help to reduce tension and pain, improve blood flow and encourage relaxation. Sometimes oils are used during massage.
Reflexology is a type of massage of the feet. It is based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body.
Relaxation therapies are things that help you to relax. Different people find their own ways of relaxing and what works for one person might not work for another. Some of the things people have told us they do to help with relaxation are listening to music or relaxation tapes, going for a walk or doing gentle exercise such as some forms of yoga.
Which complementary treatments have people used to be help with their epilepsy?
- Biofeedback - a study of 18 people with epilepsy in Brighton showed that 3 people had their seizures reduced by more than half with a type of biofeedback
- Reflexology – a study of 77 people showed that a number of people who had reflexology along with their usual epilepsy medicines, had fewer seizures than before.
- Relaxation - can help to relieve stress. Some people have told us that lowering their levels of stress makes their seizures less likely.
Which complementary treatments help with general wellbeing?
Generally, these treatments don’t stop seizures, but can help improve your feeling of wellbeing, which, in a roundabout way, could help with your seizure control.
Which complementary treatments could be a problem for people with epilepsy?
- Aromatherapy - some aromatherapy oils should be avoided by people with epilepsy as they could makes their seizures more likely. These include rosemary, fennel, sage, eucalyptus, hyssop, camphor and spike lavender
- Herbal medicines - if you're thinking about taking any kind of herbal medicine or supplement, always check with your pharmacist or GP. This is because some herbal medicines or supplements could affect your epilepsy or epilepsy medicine. For example, there have been some reports that ginko biloba could trigger seizures in some people with epilepsy. And some herbal treatments, such as St John’s wort, can interact with some epilepsy medicines. This would make them less effective and possibly lower the seizure threshold. This could make seizures more likely
Where can I find more information about complementary treatments?
The NHS website has more information about acupuncture.
The Federation of Holistic Therapists has more information about aromatherapy.
The Mayo Clinic website has more information about biofeedback.
NHS choices has more information about about herbal medicines.
The Therapy Directory has more information about massage.
The Association of Reflexologists has more information about reflexology.
The Therapies Guide has information about relaxation therapies.
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Jane M Archibald, Sapphire Epilepsy Nurse Specialist at Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust for her contribution to this information.
Jane M Archibald has declared no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.
- Updated February 2018To be reviewed February 2021