The best preventive measure is to comply strictly with the drug regimen as prescribed. Seizures cannot be prevented by lifestyle changes alone, but people can make behavioral changes that improve their lives and give them a sense of control.
In most cases, there is no known cause for epileptic seizures, but specific events or conditions may trigger them and should be avoided.
Inadequate or Fragmented Sleep. Inadequate or fragmented sleep can set off seizures in many people. In one study, the lowest risk for seizures was during REM sleep (when dreams occur). The highest risk was during light non-REM stages of sleep. Using sleep hygiene or other methods to improve sleep may be helpful.
Food Allergies. Food allergies may provoke seizures in children who also have migraine headaches, hyperactive behavior, and abdominal pains. Parents should consult an allergist if they suspect foods or additives might be playing a role in such cases.
Alcohol and Smoking. Alcohol and smoking should be avoided, although light alcohol consumption does not appear to increase seizure activity in people who are not alcoholics or sensitive to alcohol.
Flashing Lights. Patients should avoid exposure to flashing or strobe lights. Video games have been known to trigger seizures in people with existing epilepsy, but apparently only if they are already sensitive to flashing lights. Seizures have been reported in Japan among people who watched cartoons with rapidly fluctuating colors and quick flashes. The frequency of flashes per second is measured in hertz (Hz). Screens that emit a lower hertz (such as 50 Hz screens sold in Europe) are more likely to cause seizures in people with epilepsy than a higher-hertz screen (such as 100 Hz screens sold in the U.S.).
Relaxation methods include diaphragmatic rhythmic breathing, biofeedback, and meditation techniques. No strong evidence supports their value on reducing actual attacks (although some people have reported that they have), but they may be helpful in reducing anxiety in people who have positive experiences with them. There have been some reports that deep breathing (a common relaxation technique) triggers seizures in certain people.
Exercise is important for many aspects of epilepsy, although it can be problematic. Weight-bearing exercise helps maintain bone density, which can be reduced by many of the medications, particularly the older ones. Exercise can also help to prevent weight gain, which is a problem with some drugs. There have been some reports that exercise may trigger seizures in some patients, but this is uncommon. A number of studies have found no significant association between physical activity and a higher incidence of seizures in patients with epilepsy. Nevertheless, if patients are concerned they should discuss this issue with their doctors.
Some small studies have reported significant benefits from the practice of yoga, which employs weight bearing and balancing postures. Well-controlled studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
All patients should maintain a healthy diet, including plenty of whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits. In addition, dairy foods may be important to maintain calcium levels. Fasting has been used to prevent seizures since ancient times. In the 1920s, a high-fat, no-sugar, low protein diet, known as a ketogenic diet, was used to prevent seizures. It lost popularity after the introduction of anti-epileptic drugs. Researchers are investigating whether the Atkins diet (high protein, low carbohydrate) may help people with epilepsy. Both the ketogenic diet and the Atkins diet can interfere with some anti-epileptic medications such as topiramate. Talk to your doctor before beginning any special diet or a weight loss program.
The ketogenic diet, which is very high in fat (90%), very low in carbohydrates, and low in protein, has been studied and debated for decades. It has proven to be helpful for many children with severe epilepsy that does not respond to AEDs. It is not clear why it works. The standard theory is that burning fat instead of carbohydrates causes an increase in ketones. Excess ketones (called ketosis) appears to alter certain amino acids in the brain and to increase levels of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps prevent nerve cells from over-firing.
Benefits. Studies report that about 10 - 15% of children who use the diet are seizure free after 1 year, while 30% are nearly seizure free. Some parents report that the diet helps improve their childrenā ' s alertness, even if seizures continue. Many children who try the ketogenic diet are able to stop or at least reduce their medications.
Candidates. The ketogenic diet seems to be most helpful for children who have difficult-to-control seizures, in particular:
Typical Ketogenic Diet. (This diet must be professionally monitored! Parents can endanger their children if they try the program on their own without consulting a doctor or trained health expert.) The child fasts for the first 1 - 2 days, then the diet is gradually introduced. The regimen uses small amounts of carbohydrates and large amounts of fats (up to 90%), with very few proteins and no sugar. Children generally consume 75% of their usual daily calorie requirements.
A typical dinner may include a chicken cutlet or piece of fish, broccoli with cheese, lettuce with mayonnaise, and a whipped cream sundae. Vegetables may include celery, cucumbers, or asparagus, cauliflower, and spinach. Breakfast might consist of an omelet, bacon, and cocoa with cream. (Artificial sweeteners are used for any desserts.)
The diet is difficult, as a slight deviation from the diet can provoke a seizure. Children cannot take medications that contain sugar (which is common in many drugs produced for children). Some sunscreens and lotions contain sorbitol, a carbohydrate that can be absorbed through skin. About 40 - 50% of patients find the diet too difficult or ineffective and stop it after 6 months.
Researchers are also investigating the Atkins diet, a popular weight-loss diet that has similar effects but is less restrictive than the ketogenic diet. Early results indicate that it might be helpful for some young people. Another alternative is a low glycemic index diet, which contains even fewer carbohydrates than the Atkins diet. Still, parents should not put their children on these diets without support from a doctor.
Side Effects and Complications. To prevent serious side effects, children need regular monitoring by a doctor, especially when the diet is first initiated.
Side effects or complications that may occur at the start of the diet include:
Side effects that may occur later on include:
Because most patients remain on the diet for only 2 years, the risks for potential long-term damage appear minimal.
Many patients with epilepsy and parents whose children have epilepsy can benefit from support associations. These services are usually free and available in most cities.
Tips for Helping Children. Some of the following tips may help the child with epilepsy:
Therapies for Children and Adults. Because of the risks for serious emotional consequences, psychological therapy may be beneficial and even necessary for some adults and children. In one study, cognitive behavioral therapy was helpful in lowering seizure rates in young people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. This approach offers a structured counseling program that helps people change behaviors that can reduce seizure risk factors such as anxiety and insomnia.
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