Epilepsy Treatments


 Is there a cure for epilepsy?

There is currently no cure for epilepsy, but there are ways to keep seizures under control.

 How is epilepsy treated?

Treatment for seizures is normally anti-epileptic medication, which does not cure epilepsy or the tendency to have seizures but usually does help control the seizure activity. For the people on these drugs, seizures are eliminated in about 50% of cases. Drugs reduce the frequency and/or intensity of seizures in another 30%. The remaining 20% of people have seizures that can not be brought under control by conventional drug therapy. They may require large doses or more than one drug, or they may be drug-resistant.

 What medications are used in the treatment of epilepsy?

The “traditional” anti-epileptic drugs are:

  • phenobarbital
  • primidone (Mysoline)
  • phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • valproic acid (Depakene)
  • divalproex sodium (Epival)
  • clonazepam (Rivotril)
  • ethosuximide (Zarontin).

The “new” antiepileptic drugs are:

  • clobazam (Frisium)
  • vigabatrin (Sabril)
  • gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • topiramate (Topamax)
  • Diazepam Rectal Gel (Diastat)

Other new drugs not yet available in Canada are tiagabine, zonisamide and remacemide.

For more information on these and other anti-epileptic drugs, call 1-866-EPILEPSY.

Do anti-epileptic medications have side-effects?

All anti-epileptic drugs can have side effects. These vary from drug to drug and only affect some people. In general, however, it is common for people on anti-epileptic medication to experience drowsiness, fatigue, weight change, upset stomach and difficulties with concentration and memory.

 Where can I get more info about a particular anti-epileptic drug?

You could ask your pharmacist or your doctor, or call 1-866-EPILEPSY for your nearest Canadian Epilepsy Alliance Member Office.

 Is surgery used to treat epilepsy?

Yes, brain surgery for epilepsy is performed, but only in a small percentage of cases, and only when all other treatments fail to adequately control seizures. The last decade has seen significant advances in the surgical treatment of epilepsy. The area of the brain with abnormally discharging neurons (the seizure focus) is surgically removed, if it is possible to identify this area and remove it safely. Or, in certain patients without a well-defined epilepsy focus, surgically disconnecting or isolating the abnormal area so that seizures no longer spread to the neighbouring normal brain can help. As with any operation, there are risks to epilepsy surgery. In patients with an identified seizure focus, the success rate of surgery is up to 80%.

 Is diet used to treat epilepsy?

In some centres Ketogenic Diet is used to treat a small number of children with intractable epilepsy who do not respond to standard therapies. It is an extreme, multi-year, high-fat diet that is challenging to administer and maintain. There is no way to predict whether it will be successful, but a significant percentage of children who are placed on the Ketogenic Diet achieve significant reduction in intensity and frequency of seizures. At present, the diet is not considered helpful for adults.

 What is vagus nerve stimulation therapy for epilepsy?

The vagus nerve stimulator has been approved to treat hard to control seizures. The device is an small, pacemaker-like generator which is surgically implanted near the collarbone to deliver small bursts of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve in the neck. So far, research has shown that vagus nerve stimulation may reduce seizures by at least 50% in about half the study participants.

 What alternative therapies are used for epilepsy?

Unconventional or non-medical therapies that focus on the integration of the body, mind and spirit have not yet been well researched for epilepsy. Some people who have tried alternative therapies like relaxation, yoga, acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, nutrition and behaviour therapy have felt that these have helped their epilepsy and improved their quality of life.

 What new medical treatments for epilepsy does the future hold?

In the future, epilepsy may be treated by new forms of electronic stimulation of the brain, implanted devices to deliver medication directly to areas of the brain from which seizures arise, gene therapy, and transplants of immature brain cells to replace damaged or missing neurons.