Lifestyle Changes to Manage Epilepsy

If you live with epilepsy, it can take some time to adjust to your new normal. Everyday things you do, like eating, exercising, and sleeping, can impact how often or how severe your seizures are.

It may take trial and error to figure out which lifestyle changes will make a difference for you. Just like with most things related to epilepsy, a lifestyle change that works for 1 person may make no difference to the next.

While there is no cure for epilepsy, many medical treatments can result in seizure freedom. Lifestyle changes are another way to play an active role in managing your condition. Some common changes are:1

  • Learning your triggers and avoiding them
  • Keeping a seizure diary
  • Changing your diet
  • Avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs
  • Exercising safely
  • Avoiding infections
  • Managing stress
  • Getting good sleep
  • Making it easier to remember to take your anti-seizure drugs

Learning your triggers

Bright, flashing lights, lack of sleep, certain noises, exercise, missed meals, missing drug doses, hormone changes, stress, drug or alcohol use, and infections – all of these things can trigger seizures. A trigger is anything that occurs fairly often before you have a seizure. But everyone’s triggers are different. How can you learn your triggers? A seizure diary can help.1

Seizure diary

Keeping a seizure diary can play an important role in controlling your seizures. A seizure journal is simply a record of what is going on with your seizures. Your doctor can help you decide which information to track, but people may include:2,3

  • Time of day and length of seizure
  • Seizure type
  • Location of event
  • Symptoms like repeated movements, problems communicating, muscle stiffness, or muscle twitches
  • Video link, if the seizure was recorded
  • What you were doing in the minutes and hours before the seizure
  • Whether you were stressed, hungry, or tired from lack of sleep

Diet changes

Some people find that skipping meals triggers seizures. That is why it is recommended that people with epilepsy eat at consistent times every day. A regular pattern of eating, taking medicine, and sleeping helps some people avoid or reduce seizures.1

Others find that a ketogenic diet or a modified Atkins diet helps them manage their seizures.

Alcohol and illegal drugs

Some people with epilepsy find they can drink in moderation. Others cannot drink at all. It is a good idea to avoid alcohol during your high-risk times and after surgery. Illegal drugs are especially dangerous for people with epilepsy and should be completely avoided.1

Exercise

Exercise has many benefits for people with epilepsy. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running, or lifting weights builds muscle and strengthens bones. Exercise is especially important in people with epilepsy because some anti-seizure drugs can reduce bone health. Exercise also lifts mood and reduces stress. There is even some evidence that exercise reduces the number of seizures in some people.4

You will just need to stay hydrated and avoid getting too tired or hyperventilating while exercising. Many people with epilepsy are told to avoid swimming, but you may be able to enjoy water sports with a companion and close supervision. Ask your doctor if you are unsure which types of exercise to avoid.1

Manage stress

Stress is a common seizure trigger. That is why lowering stress is one of the first things your doctor will recommend to help you manage epilepsy better. However, everyone’s idea of stress is different. What reduces stress in 1 person may increase stress in another.

Some people cut back on chores. Others find a way to spend more time with friends and family. Hobbies, meditation, volunteering, massage, yoga, and acupuncture are among the many ways people reduce stress. If you find your stress is hard to manage on your own, talk to your doctor about finding resources for support.1

Sleep

Sleep and seizures are closely connected. In fact, lack of sleep is one of the most common seizure triggers. Lack of sleep can also lead to more intense or longer seizures. This is why your doctor may coach you on what is called sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a group of habits that can improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping well. These habits include sticking to a sleep schedule, reducing naps, and avoiding food and drinks that keep you awake.5

Avoid infections

Illness, especially sickness that creates a fever, is another common seizure trigger. That is why your doctor will want you to avoid getting sick. Basic infection control methods include:1

  • Wash your hands often, especially when you come in from outside or have been shopping.
  • Avoid people who are sick, especially with colds and the flu.
  • Stay current on any necessary vaccines.
  • Keep your house clean.

If you do get sick, talk to your doctor right away so they can help you manage the illness. Some over-the-counter medicines used for colds and the flu can trigger seizures, so be sure to review anything you would like to take with your doctor first.

Changes to your lifestyle will not cure epilepsy, but they can reduce your chances of seizures and make you healthier overall. Perhaps best of all, many lifestyle changes are free or inexpensive compared with medical care.

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: May 2022