Treatment for Epilepsy

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, implanted devices including vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and Responsive Neurostimulation (NeuroPace), or epilepsy diets (ketogenic diet and modified atkins diet) and complementary therapy. The goal of all epilepsy treatment is to prevent further seizures, avoid side effects, and make it possible for people to lead active lives.

“The decision to treat becomes a highly individualized one.”


  • Abnormal EEG
  • Previous seizure
  • Other neurological impairment
  • Elderly

When a child or adult experiences a single seizure, or appears at the doctor’s office with a history of questionable events that may or may not have been seizures, the first issue is to determine what happened, whether a seizure actually took place, of what type and duration it was, the possible cause, and the future prognosis.

Once this information is gathered, the next question is whether to treat the underlying condition (if one has been identified and if it is treatable), or whether to treat the symptoms by prescribing antiepileptic (or seizure-preventing) drugs.


  • Single seizure
  • No history
  • Neurologically normal
  • Young age
  • Side effects

Unless the EEG is clearly abnormal, thus increasing the likelihood of subsequent seizures, physicians tend to wait until a second or even third seizure occurs before beginning antiepileptic medication. They do so because studies show that an otherwise normal child who has had a single seizure has a relatively low (15%) risk of a second one. Once the second has occurred, the risk of subsequent seizures is substantially increased.

On the other hand, the risk of another seizure for a child who is neurologically abnormal, or whose EEG is abnormal, may be as high as 50-60%.

In determining whether to treat, physicians consider the risk-benefit ratio, which varies according to the age of the patient and his or her activity level. Waiting to see whether another generalized tonic-clonic seizure occurs is less risky for a child living in a sheltered home environment than it is for a salesman who lives most of his life driving a car, or an elderly person with brittle bones. On the other hand, antiepileptic drugs have side effects which, while generally mild, can in some cases include liver damage and potentially fatal rashes and blood disorders. Therefore the decision to treat becomes a highly individualized one in which the risks of the treatment are weighed against the risks of the seizures.

There is debate about whether or not children with febrile (fever caused) seizures should be placed on antiepileptic drugs. Current opinion favors withholding therapy for most of these children, since side effects of the medication may cause more problems than recurrent febrile convulsions. There may be instances, however, when treatment is prescribed.

For more information:

Information from: Epilepsy Foundation of America.