Epilepsy | Treatment


How is epilepsy treated?

Epilepsy usually is treated with medicine. If medicine doesn’t help your seizures, your doctor may recommend surgery or other therapies. If your doctor knows what is causing your epilepsy, treating the cause may make the seizures stop.

What do I need to know about taking medicine for epilepsy?

Medicines that help prevent seizures are called anticonvulsants or antiepileptics. Your doctor will recommend a medicine based on the type of seizures you have, how often you have seizures, your age, and your general health. After you begin taking the medicine, your doctor will monitor you closely to determine whether the drug is working, to watch for side effects, and to make sure your dose is correct.

These medicines may cause side effects, including fatigue, dizziness, skin rash, or problems with your memory, coordination, or speech. Call your doctor right away if you experience depression, suicidal thoughts, or severe rash while taking your medicine.

To help your medicine work well, follow your doctor’s instructions for taking your medicine. Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor. Ask your doctor what to do if you miss a dose. Never take extra medicine, even if you think you’re about to have a seizure. Talk to your doctor before you start taking any new medicines, including vitamins or supplements.

You should avoid drinking alcohol if you have epilepsy. Alcohol can make it easier to have a seizure and can also affect the way your epilepsy medicine works in your body. Some medicines can also make it easier to have a seizure, so check with your doctor before starting to take any new medicines.

It may be possible for some people who have epilepsy to eventually stop taking medicine. However, this decision must be made by your doctor. Before you and your doctor can decide to stop the medicine, several questions should be considered. These include how quickly your seizures were controlled, how long you have been free of seizures, and if you have other illnesses that may affect your problem.

What about surgery and other therapies?

Surgery is most commonly done if it’s known that your seizures begin in a well-defined area of your brain that doesn't interfere with important functions like speech, language, or hearing. 

In other cases of medicine-resistant seizures, your doctor may recommend a type of therapy called vagus nerve stimulation. This requires a small device be implanted under the skin on your chest. The device delivers electrical pulses to the vagus nerve in the neck.

A kind of treatment for children with certain types of epilepsy that are difficult to control involves a strict diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. This diet is known as a ketogenic diet. This diet should be prescribed and monitored by a physician.

With all treatments, work with your doctor to determine the best treatment for you.

What should I do when someone has a seizure?

If you have epilepsy, you may want to share the following information with your family, friends and coworkers. If someone near you has a seizure, use the following general guidelines:

  • Stay calm.
  • Don't move the person to another place.
  • Don't try to keep the person from moving or shaking.
  • Don't try to wake the person by shouting at or shaking them.
  • Remove items that could cause injury if the person falls or bumps into them.
  • Gently turn the person on his or her side so any fluid in the mouth can safely come out.
  • Never try to force the person's mouth open or put anything in it.
  • Place something soft (such as a pillow) under his or her head.
  • Most seizures aren't life-threatening. You don't need to call a doctor or an ambulance unless the person isn't known to have epilepsy or unless the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • When the seizure is over, watch the person for signs of confusion. Allow the person to rest or sleep if he or she wishes.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 09/94