For any chronic condition, lifestyle habits can make a big difference in how the illness impacts a person’s life—and that’s true for epilepsy as well.
Epilepsy is a condition that causes episodes of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which can cause recurrent epileptic seizures. Treatment for epilepsy involves taking medicine to control seizures, but there are also important lifestyle modifications that can significantly impact one’s susceptibility for seizures.
“Most doctors and patients have become very, very good at managing chronic illness to the point that people feel good, they’re productive, [and] they carry on long lives—and that’s really our goal,” says Padmaja Kandula, MD, a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City. “If it happens early on, people can not only manage their chronic problem, but really manage their lifestyle and prevent other chronic problems.”
Here are four important lifestyle habits to adopt if you have epilepsy:
1. Take your medication as prescribed. Anti-seizure medications work to prevent or stop seizures. These medications can be very effective—if taken as directed. “The main thing is taking the medication in a timely fashion and not missing doses,” says Dr. Kandula. “Some people are very sensitive. If the level drops during the day, they may have a seizure. So staying on a strict schedule is very important.”
2. Keep a seizure diary. A seizure diary can not only help you identify seizure triggers, but it can also help your doctor ensure that your medication is working. “It can be [as] simple as keeping an app on the phone,” says Dr. Kandula. You can also take down notes on your calendar or in a notebook.
Here are some items to log in your seizure diary:
Number of seizures
Type of seizures
Time of day you’re experiencing seizures
Time of month
Recent sleep quality
What you ate or drank
Any missed medicines or late doses
And your emotional state.
3. Manage stress levels. “Stress has a lot of effects for different parts of the body and the brain is definitely no exception,” says Dr. Kandula. “Indirectly, stress may cause seizures.” To keep stress levels in check, try deep-breathing or meditation, setting time aside for relaxation, limiting alcohol, and most importantly, getting enough sleep.
4. Get quality sleep. Not getting enough sleep—whether it’s because of stress or another reason—can irritate the brain, which can trigger a seizure, says Dr. Kandula. Aim to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night. Here are some tips to sleep better tonight.
If you feel like you can’t keep your seizures under control, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They can make changes to your treatment plan to help you better manage your epilepsy.
“The illness shouldn’t define the person, and the person has the ability to maneuver their lifestyle and make positive changes,” says Dr. Kandula.