Living Well With Epilepsy

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Young, free and wild

Living with epilepsy means you may have seizures that can come on without warning. Uncontrolled seizures can cause dangerous falls and increase your risk for other serious injuries. It's normal to be concerned that epilepsy symptoms could affect your normal day-to-day activities – like going to work, school, or just hanging out with your family or friends.  

Feeling out of control when a seizure strikes can be scary. But the good news is there are many steps you can take right now to get control of your epilepsy management – and still be social and active.

1. Put safety first.

Being prepared is the best way to feel confident about seizure management. Think ahead with these tips:

  • Have a plan in place at home, work, and/or school detailing what should be done if you have a seizure. Teach loved ones seizure first aid.

  • Protect your head from injury. Wear a helmet when biking, climbing, or performing other high-risk activities.

  • Be mindful of places that might be risky if you have a seizure, like water. You don't have to avoid it; just take appropriate safety steps.

2. Follow your doctor's orders.

Keep your doctor’s appointments and see your epilepsy specialist as recommended. Always take medication as your doctor prescribed – regularly and at the same time. Don't double up a dose or stop taking your medication without talking to him or her first. Remember, you are an important part of your healthcare team. If the medicine is giving you troubling side effects, call to discuss it with your doctor. You might be able to switch to a different drug that might be less bothersome. 

3. Eat a burger, minus the bun.

Ask your doctor about special diet approaches. A very high-fat fat, low-carbohydrate diet, called the ketogenic diet, has been used with success in kids whose epilepsy doesn't get better with medication. It's not often recommended for adults, yet studies focusing on adults show it may work just as well, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. This special diet is much stricter than other low-carb, high-fat regimens. It's doctor-prescribed and requires careful intake of calories and fluids. There have been some reports it could cause kidney disease. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about which foods are best for you. 

4. Get enough zzzz's.

Go ahead: hit that snooze button. Lack of sleep is a common seizure trigger. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours a night for adults aged 26-64. Some epilepsy medications may cause drowsiness, so ask your doctor how much sleep you really should be getting. 

5. Go to happy hour, but skip the cocktails.

It's important to maintain your friendships and social support network. Doing so boosts your mood and thwarts stress, which is known to bring on seizures. But nix the alcohol. Beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages can cause dehydration and are a seizure trigger. So avoid the booze or limit how much you drink.  

6. Keep a seizure and trigger diary.

Tracking these things helps you and your doctor better manage your care. Make the journal easy to find and use so others can make an entry for you if you can't after you have a seizure. Things to note: Date and time of seizure, your mood, how much sleep you got the night before, and where it happened (for example, where you in a room with flashing lights, a known trigger?). The Epilepsy Foundation offers paper journals you can print out. 

7. Strike up a new sport or hobby. 

Exercise boosts levels of feel-good hormones in the body, easing stress and making you feel happy. That's really important if you have epilepsy, because depression affects about 1 in 3 people with the disease. Some research shows that regular exercise may improve seizure control in some patients. Participating in coach-led sporting activities (with a doctor's OK) seems to be beneficial. As always, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and don't overdo yourself. 

Many people with epilepsy are able to manage and prevent seizures with the right medication, but keeping these steps in mind can help ensure your success. Always talk to your doctor before making any big lifestyle changes or trying a new exercise routine.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Dec 26

  1. Facts and Figures. American Epilepsy Society. https://www.aesnet.org/for_patients/facts_figures

  2. Living Well with Epilepsy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/pdfs/epilepsy-brochure-provider-noreference.pdf

  3. Safety: Strategies for Preventing Injuries. The Epilepsy Foundation. http://www.epilepsy.com/get-help/managing-your-epilepsy/living-epilepsy/living-epilepsy-101-basics/safety

  4. The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/detail_epilepsy.htm

  5. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? The National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

  6. Ketogenic Diet. The Epilepsy Foundation. http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

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