There is currently no cure for most types of epilepsy.
A doctor may prescribe antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) to help prevent seizures. If these drugs do not work, some other potential options include surgery, vagus nerve stimulation, or a special diet.
Doctors’ objective is to prevent further seizures. They also aim to prevent side effects so that the person can lead an active and productive life.
AEDs appear to help control seizures in around 60–70% of cases, according to the American Epilepsy Society. The type of seizure a person has will decide which specific drug the doctor will prescribe.
People take the majority of AEDs by mouth. Common medications for treating epilepsy include:
- valproic acid
It is important to note that some drugs may prevent seizures in one person but not in another. Also, even when a person finds the right drug, it may take some time to find the ideal dosage.
If at least two medications have been ineffective in controlling seizures, a doctor may consider recommending epilepsy surgery. A 2013 study from Sweden found that 62% of adults and 50% of children with epilepsy had no seizures for around 7 years after epilepsy surgery.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, some surgical options include:
- Lobectomy: During this procedure, a surgeon will remove the section of the brain in which seizures start. This is the oldest type of epilepsy surgery.
- Multiple subpial transection: During this procedure, a surgeon will make several cuts to limit seizures to one part of the brain.
- Corpus callosotomy: A surgeon will cut the neural connections between the two halves of the brain. This prevents seizures from spreading from one side of the brain to the other.
- Hemispherectomy: In extreme cases, a surgeon may need to cut out a hemisphere, which is one half of the cerebral cortex of the brain.
For some people, undergoing surgery may reduce the frequency and severity of their seizures. However, it is often important to continue taking antiseizure medication for several years following the procedure.
Another surgical option is the implantation of a device in the chest to stimulate the vagus nerve in the lower neck. The device sends preprogrammed electrical stimulation to the brain to help reduce seizures.
Diet may play a role in reducing seizures. A 2014 review of research that appeared in the journal Neurology suggested that high fat, low carbohydrate diets could benefit children and adults with epilepsy.
Five of the studies in the review used the ketogenic diet, while another five used a modified Atkins diet. Typical foods in these diets include eggs, bacon, avocados, cheese, nuts, fish, and certain fruits and vegetables.
The review found that 32% of study participants adhering to the ketogenic diet and 29% of those following the modified Atkins diet experienced at least a 50% drop in the regularity of seizures. However, many participants had difficulty maintaining these diets.
Specific diets may be beneficial in some cases, but more research is needed to confirm this.