Epilepsy

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Prevention and Treatment

Many cases of epilepsy can be prevented by taking precautions. These include safety measures to avoid head injury, such as wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle or motorcycle and wearing a seat belt while in a car. Prenatal care can help to avoid infections and other causes of fetal brain damage. Treating medical conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease during adulthood can also help to prevent epilepsy.

Effective treatment depends on accurate diagnosis of the type of epilepsy someone has. For 70-80% of those diagnosed with the disorder, seizures can be controlled with available treatments, such as medication and surgery.

In people who have epilepsy, seizures can often be prevented or decreased in frequency by consistently taking the appropriate anti-epileptic medication. Carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital and valproate are commonly prescribed drugs for treating epilepsy. There are several newer second-generation antiepileptic drugs, such as levetiracetam, that may be prescribed as an adjunctive (secondary) treatment in combination with other antiepileptic drugs. The choice of drug depends on the person and on the type of seizure. Patients should work with their doctor to find the right medication(s) and dose. In cases where medication is not effective or produces severe side effects, a special diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrate may help to control seizures. For some types of epilepsy, surgery is the best option to reduce or eliminate seizures.

The number of seizures can also be decreased by avoiding triggers such as sleep deprivation, excessive stress, alcohol consumption, and use of illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine). Treating underlying conditions can also lessen the frequency of seizures. An implanted device called a vagus nerve stimulator is another possibility for those who have seizures that are not well controlled by medication, and more devices are being researched. For more on treatment options, visit the NINDS page Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research.

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