Acupuncture and Epilepsy – A Potential Treatment Option?

19th October 2021

Many people with epilepsy will understandably look for various treatment options in a quest to control their seizures or lessen their frequency and severity. Acupuncture is one such treatment that many people with epilepsy will consider or try and in this article we’ll discuss it as a treatment option, as well as a quick look at some other forms of treatment people might try outside of the traditional methods. 

One thing we need to make clear from the outset, however, is that treatment options such as acupuncture fall under a group called ‘complementary treatments’. What this means is that these options should only ever be used alongside the prescribed treatment that is outlined by a medical professional, such as anti-seizure medications (AEDs). Under no circumstances should a person with epilepsy look to replace prescribed epilepsy medications with a complementary treatment. 

We would also strongly recommend that anyone considering a complementary treatment option, such as acupuncture, first speak with their neurologist or a healthcare professional to ensure it’s safe to do so. 

Firstly, what is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment whereby fine needles are inserted into various parts of the body with the aim of stimulating nerves and muscles, thereby producing endorphins. Endorphins are natural pain relieving chemicals that are released by the brain and are known as the “feel good” chemicals we experience when something good happens to us. 

The treatment derives from ancient Chinese medicine and the belief that there is an energy or “life force” that flows through the body, known as Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). Although this may be enough for some to discount it as a treatment option, it has become a common complementary therapy in the western world that has been used for pain relief from a variety of conditions, including chronic headaches, migraines, joint pain and more. It’s actually sometimes available on the NHS via a referral. 

The effect of acupuncture on epilepsy 

There are some references that acupuncture has been used to suppress seizures for over 2,000 years and a growing number of people today are reporting that acupuncture has helped to reduce their own seizures, sometimes dramatically. 

The exact way that acupuncture can help is not fully understood, although it is believed that through the process that acupuncture can increase parasympathetic tone and changing autonomic dysfunction, and that these two changes in brain activity may have some positive effect on seizure activity.

We must stress that there is no scientific basis on which to prove that acupuncture is an effective treatment for epilepsy. However, on the flip side of this there is also no scientific basis on which to discount it. If you couple this with the anecdotal evidence from the many people who claim it can help, the onus is on the individual as to whether they would like to try it as an option. 

Other complementary treatments

Aside from acupuncture, there are a variety of other complementary treatment options that many people with epilepsy may use alongside their traditional treatment. Including: 

  • Aromatherapy 
  • Herbal medicines 
  • Massages 
  • Reflexology 
  • Relaxation therapy 
  • Biofeedback 

Again, we would strongly recommend you consult with your healthcare professional or neurologist before trying any of these complementary therapies.

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