The current standard treatment for epilepsy mostly revolves around medications. Depending on the type of epilepsy being treated, treatment may be short- or long-term.
Your doctor may include other forms of treatment, including dietary changes, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle choices, particularly curbing any unhealthy choices you may be making.
Surgery is an option, but it only is used after trials of medications.
Most epilepsy is treatable through medication. There are a number of drugs – generally called anticonvulsants—that are available. Some are useful for easing a number of seizures, while others work best on specific types and others are used to compliment primary seizure treatments.
But there are also numerous side effects that come with drug treatment. What kind of side effects a person might encounter depends on the drug or drugs being used to treat his or her epilepsy.
Some common side effects of epilepsy medications include:
- vision problems
- coordination difficulties
- speech problems
- upset stomach
- mild skin rash
Other medications can have more severe side effects that will affect people differently.
In some cases, drugs are ineffective. If the part of the brain in which the seizures originate is determined not to affect vital functions (your speech, language, and hearing abilities) then surgery may be an option. For areas of the brain that cannot be removed, there are different surgical procedures, which prevent seizures from spreading to other parts of the brain.
There are several types of surgery that might be used in the case of refractory seizures. They include:
- Temporal lobectomy: This surgery removes the portion of the brain’s temporal lobe that is causing the seizures.
- Hemispherectomy: This surgery involves deactivating one of the brain’s hemispheres by removing the affected portions of the cerebral hemisphere. This procedure is usually considered for children suffering from Rasmussen’s Encephalitis Epilepsy, which can heavily damage a hemisphere of the brain.
- Corpus callosotomy: The brain’s primary division is into two hemispheres. These two hemispheres use a specialized connective tissue called the corpus callosum to communicate. This procedure partially or completely separates the corpus callosum, minimizing or preventing communication between the hemispheres.
- Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS): This surgery involves the insertion of a small machine into the patient’s body; wires are run from it to the Vagus nerve. The machine periodically causes the nerve to stimulate the brain. This can suppress seizures.
If you encounter someone who is having a seizure, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tips for emergency treatment and first aid:
- Keep calm and reassure other people who may be nearby.
- Prevent injury by clearing the area around the person of anything hard or sharp. Ease the person to the floor and put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under his or her head.
- Remove eyeglasses and loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make breathing difficult.
- Begin to time the seizure with your watch.
- Call 911. Do not hold the person down or try to stop his or her movements.
- Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that a person having a seizure can swallow his tongue. Do not put anything in the person’s mouth. Efforts to hold the tongue down can injure the teeth or jaw.
- Turn the person gently onto one side. This will help keep the airway clear.
- Don't attempt artificial respiration except in the unlikely event that a person does not start breathing again after the seizure has stopped.
- Stay with the person until the seizure ends naturally and he is fully awake.
- Do not offer the person water or food until fully alert.
- Be friendly and reassuring as consciousness returns.
- Offer to call a taxi, friend, or relative to help the person get home if he or she seems confused or unable to get home without help.
Here are a few things you can do to help someone who is having a seizure that involves blank-staring, loss of awareness, and/or involuntary blinking, chewing, or other facial movements.
- Stay calm and speak reassuringly.
- Guide him or her away from dangers.
- Block access to hazards, but don’t restrain the person.
- If the person is agitated, stay a distance away, but close enough to protect him or her until full awareness has returned.
Consider a seizure an emergency and call 911.