New Logo

 

OUR MISSION

"The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives."

 

HEALTHY HABITS FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH EPILEPSY

Sleep and Epilepsy

Epilepsy patients should partner with their neurologist to find not only the right anti-seizure medication, but lifestyle changes that can help them live a more normal life.

For the majority of people living with epilepsy, a life free from seizures is an attainable goal. While a single seizure in a month may be an improvement if that is less than the prior month, you still don't have the level of independence and freedom from seizures to live comfortably. On top of fear, anxiety and potential personal injury, that one event can prevent you from working, driving and even living on your own.

So, the question must be asked by both patient and doctor, “Have we done everything possible to make sure the seizures are optimally controlled?”

While some types of epilepsy may require surgery, anti-seizure medications control seizures in about 70 percent of people. Healthy habits practiced daily can also help. In tandem with a treatment plan customized to the individual’s needs, here are some every day steps to help reduce or even prevent the effects of epilepsy on daily life.

Medication Management

People are diagnosed with epilepsy, a disorder of the brain, when they have had two or more seizures. Roughly two out of three epilepsy patients will have their seizures controlled on the first or second seizure medication they try. So identifying one that minimizes side effects is often the most important step.

The most common trigger for an epilectic seizure is missed doses. Get into a pattern. Use a pillbox and try to take your medication at the same time every day. Set a phone alarm. If there is a large variation from one day to the next, patients may be under-medicated for substantial parts of the day.

Pay attention to when your seizures happen and, if it is consistently toward the end of your dose, tell your doctor. This is when you are at greatest risk of having a breakthrough seizure, which means you may need to adjust medications.

Side effects vary greatly between medications, which means certain drugs might work slightly better than others based on an individual’s side effect profile. For example, if anxiety, irritability and depression are side effects of an anti-seizure medication, it should not be taken by someone with a history of those symptoms.

Lifestyle

  • Sleep: The single most important thing people can do is try to get the recommended hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is one of the most common triggers for seizures. Set yourself up for success. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night. Avoid alcohol or drugs to ensure that you get quality sleep. While many patients are able to have a few drinks without incident, some are exquisitely sensitive to it and any amount will cause a seizure the next day. Daily exercise of at least 20 minutes is also known to improve sleep quality.
  • Diet: While it does not directly impact seizure frequency, foods high in fiber and nutrients can help meliorate absorption of seizure medications and achieve the best control. Drink plenty of water and minimize foods high in sugar, sodium and anything processed.
  • Stress: Increased stress has been shown to increase seizure risk. Ease anxiety with mindfulness training, meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy. They are often more effective than trying new medication to manage anxiety.
  • Avoid isolation: Support groups can help manage depression by better understanding the stresses you are enduring and how that impacts your seizures.

Self-Management

Seizures are often a downstream consequence of an injured brain. Avoiding brain injury altogether is going to reduce your risk.

Seizures typically happen in two main age ranges: the first two decades of life and in those age 50 and older. In children, injuries related to development and birth that are beyond anyone's control, as well as falls resulting in head injury — are called post-traumatic seizures. In the older age group, the culprit is wear and tear on the brain and stroke is a major contributor.

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and overall cardiovascular health reduces the risk of aneurysms, hemorrhages and of strokes — and all of those are going to reduce your risk of seizures.

Any illness, infection or fever can lower the seizure threshold, leaving you more vulnerable.

Reducing Risk of Injury During a Seizure

The best thing patients can do to reduce their risk of injury is to not miss doses and keep a consistent schedule.

If you live with somebody, educate them on what to expect. They should be comfortable with what a seizure looks like and how to react, understanding that the patient may be confused and will need reassurance afterward.

There are several types of seizures and it can sometimes be hard to determine which you are experiencing. For example, a non-convulsive seizure may cause you to seem confused or stare. Convulsive seizures are characterized by involuntary movements and can force you to shake and fall.

While many seizures don’t require medical attention, you should call 911 if:

  • This is your first seizure
  • The seizure is a convulsion where the whole body shakes
  • It lasts longer than five minutes
  • You have another seizure soon after the first one
  • You get hurt during the seizure
  • You have a health condition like diabetes, heart disease or are pregnant

Be attentive to your own experience, understand what your triggers are and develop a plan to address and control your seizures. This will help return you to a normal life and hopefully leave daily medications as your only reminder of this condition.

Written by Fred Lado, MD