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Seizures happen when your brain cells, which communicate through electrical signals, send out the wrong signals. Having just one seizure doesn't mean you have epilepsy. Generally, several seizures are needed before there is a diagnosis of epilepsy.
Epilepsy can happen at any age, but it is most common in the elderly. Many children with epilepsy outgrow the condition. However, even mild seizures that happen more than once should be treated, because they could cause harm if they happen while you are driving, walking, or swimming, for example.
Signs and Symptoms
Seizures are classified in two main categories:
Partial seizures -- involve a part of the brain. They can be:
Generalized seizures -- involve much more or all of the brain. They can be:
What Causes It?
Seizures are caused by overexcited nerve cells in the brain that fire abnormally. In about half of cases, the cause isn’t known. Some things that can cause seizures include:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your doctor will take your medical history and ask about anything that may have caused your seizure, such as an injury to your head. Your doctor will also ask about risk factors -- for example, family or personal history of seizures. Be sure to tell your doctor how you felt before and after the seizure. Your health care provider will do blood tests and an electroencephalogram (EEG), which records the electrical activity in your brain. You may also have a computerized tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
The goal of therapy is to stop the seizures, reduce any drug side effects, stop seizures from coming back, and help you readjust to your home life and work after a seizure.
Your health care provider will probably prescribe medication to help control your seizures. About 30 - 70% of people who have one seizure will have a second seizure within 1 year. You may need to try several medications or combinations before you find one that works for you. There are a number of drugs available to help treat seizures, including anticonvulsants (anti-seizure drugs) and sedatives.
If medications do not work, ask your doctor about a procedure called vagus nerve stimulation.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
You should always see a doctor if you or your child has a seizure. Taking some supplements and changing one's diet may help some people reduce how often they have seizures, but the same supplements may make some people's seizures happen more often.
Never take any supplements without your doctor's knowledge. You should never take any prescription medication without your doctor's knowledge, either. Make sure to tell all of your health care providers of any medications, herbs, and supplements you are using.
Nutrition and Supplements
A ketogenic diet -- high in fat and low in protein and carbohydrates -- may help some people control the frequency of seizures. It has been studied most often for children, and seems to work better for children than adults. A doctor needs to closely monitor this diet, both for side effects and to make sure you are following its rigid structure. You may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements, because this diet is very restricted.
Some studies have shown a connection between food allergies and seizures in some children, but the evidence isn’t clear. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and any supplements that have stimulating effects. A holistically oriented health care provider may help you identify possible food allergies.
Some supplements may make certain anti-seizure medications less effective. Be sure to ask your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Many of the herbs used to treat seizures have sedative effects, and they interact with other herbs, supplements, and prescription medications. Take these herbs only under a doctor's supervision, so that they can monitor side effects and interactions. Most of these herbs have been used traditionally for seizures, but lack scientific evidence showing they work.
Do not take the following herbs:
Avoid these essential oils:
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for seizure disorders based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Chiropractic, osteopathic, or naturopathic manipulation may help, especially in children or for seizures after head trauma.
In some cases, specific acupressure points may have been used to stop seizures. However, one study for people with severe epilepsy found they didn't work. Chinese medical literature has examples of treating seizure disorders through traditional acupuncture, as well as scalp and auricular (ear) acupuncture or a combination of all these techniques. If you decide to have acupuncture, work with a qualified acupuncturist and let all your other health care providers know about your treatments.
Finding the right dosage or drug combinations for you make take some time. Your health care provider will monitor you until your seizures are under control.
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Review Date: 4/15/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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