5 Epilepsy Treatment Options

From lifestyle modifications, to surgical treatments, to anti-seizure meds—learn how to take control of your symptoms.

Medically reviewed in November 2022

For many of the 3 million Americans currently living with epilepsy, a condition characterized by recurrent seizures, the mainstay of their treatment plan is drug therapy—a regimen of anticonvulsive medicines prescribed to prevent seizures from occurring. 

But medications aren’t always enough to keep the condition under control. Learn more about surgery, plus other epilepsy treatments options, that can help you get a handle on your symptoms. 

Anti-seizure medications. The use of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) is the most common and effective treatment for seizures. They don’t cure epilepsy, but instead work to reduce the amount of electrical activity in the brain, stopping seizures before they happen. There are more than 20 different varieties of anti-seizure medications, each with a different set of potential benefits and side effects, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about which medications are best for the type of seizures you have. And don’t be surprised if your prescription takes a few adjustments in medications and/or dosages. Most people have to try more than one medication before they find what works best for them. 

Epilepsy surgery. If your seizures can’t be controlled by medication alone, and you have a clear diagnosis of your specific seizure type and disorder, your doctor may suggest surgery. In epilepsy surgery, doctors identify the area of the brain housing the abnormal tissue where your seizures are originating from and remove it. Before making the decision to have surgery though, it’s important to weigh the risks against the potential rewards, as it’s not guaranteed that the procedure will be able to completely control your seizures. 

Vagus nerve stimulation. The vagus nerve stimulator (VNS), a device implanted in the chest under your skin, helps reduce the number of seizures by sending regular electrical signals to stimulate the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that carries important signals from the body to the brain. The VNS works both automatically and manually—patients can “turn it on” if they feel like they’re about to have a seizure. It’s often used with AEDs. 

Ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb plan that forces the body to burn fat for energy instead of glucose, which has been shown to help reduce seizures in some people with epilepsy. Doctors usually prescribe a ketogenic diet to kids who haven’t had success in managing their seizures with medication alone. The ketogenic diet can help reduce seizures in adults, too, but most people aren’t able to stick to it. And because this diet is so restrictive and specific, it can be tough to follow, so it should only be administered under the guidance of a physician and/or nutritionist. 

Epilepsy lifestyle modifications. While lifestyle changes alone can’t control seizures, they are an empowering way to gain control over your condition outside of the doctor’s office. Getting enough sleep and regular exercise, and avoiding epileptic triggers such as smoking, alcohol and flashing lights, are all easy ways for you to manage your condition at home. Keeping a seizure diary to help you track your triggers and seizure experiences is also a great tool for managing your condition. 

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