Epilepsy and lifestyle: what should I do and what should I avoid?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is extra important for those with epilepsy. Anything that you can do for your body to keep it healthy is something to strive for. Being able to do so helps you to take control of your life.

You may take vitamins daily to improve your health and nourish the body. Besides taking your medication and avoiding triggers, exercise is also proven to help reduce seizures and of course release those great endorphins! People with epilepsy and their families are commonly concerned about seizures during exercise, and this fear often results in overprotection, feelings of isolation and restrictions on activity. It is important to understand how exercise affects both epilepsy and seizures, and what to do if a seizure occurs. 

Here is a list of vitamins you could take:

– Biotin. Has shown in several studies to result in partial to full recovery in certain patients.

– Folic acid. It is one of the first vitamins that come to mind for people with epilepsy, especially women. Folic acid promotes cellular growth and maturation of red blood cells. When you are taking an anticonvulsant medication, it is believed that folic acid levels drop. If you are a woman who is planning on starting a family and have epilepsy, folic acid will definitely be the main topic to discuss.

– Calcium. It is known to help keep our bones strong (“drink lots of milk”) Did you know that every day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine, etc. but our bodies cannot produce new calcium? Food for thought.

– Fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can cross into the central nervous system, where they can reduce the brain cells that trigger seizures.

Fatty fish has been found to help control seizures. It has been found that people who experience a common type of seizure tend to have lower amounts of omega-3 fatty acid DHA in their blood. This type of seizure, refractory complex partial seizures, is also often resistant to drug therapy. Controlling the seizures, then, might be as simple as adding foods that contain high levels of omega-3. Canned tuna is an ideal food because of its DHA level, inexpensive price, and ease of preparation.

Do you know that an epileptic can suffer from dementia? Fish oil helps to avoid the negative impact of epileptic seizures on the nervous system, helps restore brain cells and strengthens the nervous system – read more about this.

Spotlight on fitness & exercise

We all need exercise, whether it’s going to the gym, biking, hiking, yoga, boxing or Pilates. Having the ability to pick and choose is a wonderful thing. For some of us, it does not come that easy and especially with a medical condition, our options can be limited. Leaning on someone that is able to inform and educate you on exercises is a great thing. Going to a class, for example, is motivating and gives you a routine.

Benefit of yoga

The thing about yoga is that you can choose when, where, and what type of yoga you want to practice. It can be done at any age and at any level. Having the right equipment and mindset is helpful. Whether you have epilepsy or not, why not focus on improving your mental, emotional, and physical well-being?

No matter what you choose to do with exercising, you are able to build strength, flexibility, as well as confidence in life. Living with epilepsy can be a real struggle, but we will all take what we can get to make us feel good!

Studies have shown that even putting on gym clothing can make you feel more motivated to get your body moving! It takes time and effort, but the goal (for many) is not to become a “professional”, instead you should seek to be skillful in loving yourself and remaining an epilepsy warrior! Motivation leads to action. That is the ultimate goal!

Modified Atkins diet

Another epileptic diet is the modified Atkins diet which reduces the incidence of seizures through an encouraging increase of fat intake and a much lesser amount of carbohydrate intake.

This diet is administered for adults since it has no limitations or restrictions on the required amount of protein, calorie, and fluid intake. Foods served will not necessarily be measured nor weighed. Although the diet will still be monitored by the doctors it is somehow easier to follow and not too strict.

Medications

The vast majority of people with epilepsy control the disease with anti-epileptic or anti-convulsion drugs. The medication is a preventative measure, not a cure. Drug therapies are individual to the patients they are prescribed simply because the seizures vary so much from person to person. A single drug can be prescribed, but usually, it is a combination of drugs.

The anti-convulsion drugs are meant to stop seizures, change the seizure threshold, and prevent the electrical charges in the brain that can cause seizures. How drugs work is not completely understood. However, drugs can block the spread of abnormally fast nerve impulses on the brain and some can increase the flow of chloride ions, which stabilize nerve cells.

Drug therapy can be very effective in controlling epileptic seizures. Nearly fifty percent of people who use medications to control epilepsy see their seizures completely eliminated. Another thirty percent see their seizures reduced in both intensity and frequency. An unlucky twenty percent either suffer from seizures that are resistant to medication or their seizures are so severe that partial control is the best alternative.

Can I drive if I have epilepsy?

Each state has its own requirements for people with epilepsy to drive. Generally, your physician will okay you for a license if the following criteria are met:

– Completely controlled on medication.

– Have seizures only at night.

– Have seizures which are focal motor.

– Have only auras.

– Have long auras before seizures which allow you to pull off to the side of the road.

– Have predictable seizures that occur during fever, sleep deprivation or another time when you can predict when the seizure will happen.

Check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for the rules that apply in your state.

Can I fly a plane?

Neurologists argue that epilepsy is not a contraindication in order to fly a plane. However, it is important to consider the type of attack and what can provoke it. Some types of seizures occur due to severe fatigue (for example, during a long flight) or excitement (with fear of flying).

If there is a possibility that an attack may occur onboard the aircraft, you must inform the airline in advance.

Before the flight, it is necessary to consult with your doctor and calculate the time for taking anticonvulsants taking into account the change of time zones.

Can I drink coffee with epilepsy?

This is known only by your attending physician, who knows all the features of seizures and your drug therapy.

You should know that caffeine stimulates the nervous system and, as a rule, makes it more susceptible to any irritants. Caffeine has a different effect on each part of the brain, so the possible effect depends on the location of the epileptogenic site. Some patients say that coffee helps relieve headaches caused by an epileptic seizure and does not provoke new episodes. At the same time, according to research, excessive consumption of caffeine leads to a significant increase in the number of seizures.

The best advice for you can be given only by your attending physician, and you should follow his recommendations in order to avoid new attacks and live a full life without fear of your illness.

Dr. Ali Elahi

This article is written by Dr. Ali Elahi, a specialist in neuromuscular disorders, certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). His expertise includes evaluation and treatment of patients with epilepsy, stroke, headache, neuromuscular disease, and cerebral palsy.He also manages neurological emergencies in the Intensive Care Units.

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