- Brain surgery
- Deep brain stimulation
- Trigeminal nerve stimulation
- Vagus nerve stimulation
- The ketogenic diet
- Complementary treatments
Most people with epilepsy take anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) and these can be very effective in reducing or stopping seizures. If AEDs do not work well for you, there are some other treatments that may be helpful.
A small number of people with epilepsy can have brain surgery to try and stop their seizures. Doctors will usually only consider surgery for you if there is an obvious cause in your brain for your epilepsy, such as scar tissue. You will also have to have tried a few different anti-epileptic drugs, but still be having seizures. You and your doctor will need to weigh up the benefits and risks of having brain surgery.
Deep brain stimulation is a treatment where a part of your brain is stimulated, to stop you having symptoms of a particular medical condition. It is only considered for people who can’t have their seizures controlled by epilepsy medicines or other types of surgery.
Trigeminal nerve stimulation is one of a variety of types of neurostimulation being explored at the moment. It is not yet available for people in the UK.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a treatment for epilepsy where a small device is implanted under the skin below the left collar bone. This device, similar to a pace-maker, is called a generator. The generator is connected to a thin wire, which stimulates the vagus nerve in the person’s neck at regular times throughout the day. This sends impulses to the person’s brain, which helps to prevent electrical activity that causes seizures. The aim of VNS is to reduce how many seizures you have, how long they last and how severe they are.
VNS does not work straight away. It can take anything from a couple of months to two years to see an improvement in seizures. It is rare for a person to become seizure free as a result of VNS. However, many people have fewer or less severe seizures and report a better quality of life overall. Some people, however, experience no change in their seizures.
The ketogenic diet is sometimes used to try and help children whose seizures cannot be reduced or stopped with anti-epileptic drugs. The diet is higher in fats and lower in carbohydrates than a typical diet.
The ketogenic diet should only be used under the supervision of a dietician who is an expert in the diet. This is because the balance of the diet needs to be carefully worked out for each child. Some children find the diet unpleasant and difficult to follow. Other children manage the diet very well.
Research suggests that for some children the diet can work well and reduce or stop seizures. The diet does not work for every child, and it is not possible to predict who the diet will help.
At present, the ketogenic diet is not used for adults with epilepsy in the UK. However, doctors are doing some research to see if this would be possible in the future.
Some people with epilepsy use complementary treatments to try and lower the number of seizures they have. Or they use them to improve their quality of life. Complementary treatments include acupuncture, herbal treatments, homeopathy, and aromatherapy. Some aromatherapy oils have been shown to be helpful for people with epilepsy. These include ylang ylang, camomile and lavender.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any type of complementary treatment can reduce or stop a person’s seizures. For this reason, it’s advisable for you to continue taking your anti-epileptic drugs as usual, even if you are using complementary treatments.
If you are thinking about trying a complementary treatment, it’s a good idea to talk to your family doctor or epilepsy specialist about it first. It’s also advisable to check that the person providing the treatment (the therapist) is registered. Complementary therapy organisations can give you names of registered therapists, and advice about what to look for in a good therapist.
By giving you this information, Epilepsy Action is not recommending any of the therapists you may find through the Therapy Directory.
Alternatively, you can find details of complementary therapy organisations on the internet or at your local library.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
Updated July 2013To be reviewed July 2015