When the doctor has made a diagnosis of seizures or epilepsy, the next step is to select the best form of treatment. If the seizure was caused by an underlying correctable brain condition, surgery may stop seizures. If epilepsy — that is, a continuing tendency to have seizures — is diagnosed, the doctor will usually prescribe regular use of seizure-preventing medications. If drugs are not successful, other methods may be tried, including surgery, a special diet, complementary therapy or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). The goal of all epilepsy treatment is to prevent further seizures, avoid side effects, and make it possible for people to lead active lives.
Most epilepsy medicines are taken by mouth. The doctor’s choice of which drug to prescribe depends on what kind of seizure a person is having. Some people experience side effects, others may not. Some people’s seizures will respond well to a particular drug while someone else will have seizures that continue. It may take some time to find exactly the right dose of the right drug.
There is no cure for epilepsy, yet. Medications do not cure epilepsy in the same sense that penicillin can cure an infection. For many people with epilepsy, however, the medication will prevent seizures as long as they are taken regularly; but, successful drug therapy requires the active cooperation of the patient.
Antiepileptic drugs successfully prevent seizures in the majority of people who take them regularly and as prescribed. It has been estimated that at least fifty percent of all patients with epilepsy gain complete control of their seizures for substantial periods of time. Another twenty percent enjoy a significant reduction in the number of seizures. If patients, in collaboration with their physicians, decide to attempt withdrawal from medications, they should be aware that the seizures may recur and should closely observe seizure precautions. Some individuals, however, have an excellent chance of remaining seizure free without medication in the future.
Unfortunately, some people continue to have seizures regularly despite taking medication. For them, surgical or, in children, dietary therapy with the ketogenic diet may be helpful. There is also hope that continuing research will produce new drugs and new ways of using them that will eventually give seizure relief to everyone who has epilepsy. Click here to visit the Epilepsy Foundation’s clinical trials portal that provides education about clinical research and information on clinical studies that have been vetted by Epilepsy Foundation scientific and medical experts. There is also the Rare Epilepsy Network Registry, which provides families impacted by epilepsy an opportunity to participate in research that will improve the lives and quality of care for people with rare epilepsies. The Epilepsy Foundation continues to fund basic and clinical research in the field of epilepsy and seizure disorders, and is looking forward to the time when a cure for these conditions will be achieved.