Epilepsy is a neurological disturbance, manifesting in seizures. This can manifest as a single seizure or seizures that occur repeatedly and unprovoked. A seizure reflects a brain that has temporarily lost stability. Sometimes epileptic seizures are limited to childhood, in other cases Epilepsy can remain lifelong. There is no determined cause of Epilepsy but it is believed to result from either brain damage or abnormal brain activity.
Symptoms of Epilepsy
The main symptoms of Epilepsy are (recurrent) seizures. These seizures vary in types and severity, depending on which brain region is affected. Seizures are described as feeling like a ‘trance’ for seconds or minutes. Others experience a decreased level of consciousness. Sometimes seizures are accompanied by that uncontrollable body shakes, also known as convulsions. Other common symptoms of seizures are biting the tip or sides of the tongue and experiencing an aura, which is seen as a ‘warning sign’ prior to a seizure.
Types of Epilepsy
There are two broad classifications of seizures depending on how much of the brain is affected. The first is called Partial seizures where only a small part of the brain is affected and second are known as generalised seizures where most or all of the brain is affected. These two main classifications are broken down into further categories.
[Courtesy of Brain Train UK]
There are two types of partial seizures – simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures. A simple partial seizure is one where consciousness is maintained throughout the seizure. A complex partial seizure is one where awareness is lost and the person can’t remember what happened after the seizure.
Symptoms of simple partial seizures (conscious) are as follows:
- Changes in the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound
- An intense feeling that events have happened before (déjà vu)
- A tingling sensation, or ‘pins and needles’, in your arms and legs
- A sudden intense emotion, such as fear or joy
- The muscles in your arms, legs and face may become stiff
- Twitching on one side of the body
- Adopting an unusual posture
- Chewing or swallowing
Symptoms of complex partial seizures (unconscious) include:
- Smacking lips
- Rubbing hands
- Moving arms around
- Making random noises
- Picking at clothes
- Fiddling with objects
Generalised seizures are divided in six categories:
Absences – Mainly affects children; the child loses awareness of its surrounding for up to 20 seconds
Myoclonic jerks – Arms, legs or upper body jerk or twitch, much like if receiving an electric shock, for a fraction of a second
Clonic seizure – Same sort of twitching as myoclonic jerks, except the symptoms will last longer, normally up to two minutes
Tonic seizure – All muscles suddenly become stiff, with the chance of losing balance and falling over
Tonic-clonic seizure (most common) – The body becomes stiff and arms and legs begin twitching. One will lose consciousness and some will wet themselves. The seizure normally lasts between 1 and 3 min
Treatment of Epilepsy
At the moment there aren’t any treatments that can ‘cure’ Epilepsy; seizures are mostly controlled with medication, called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Unfortunately, finding the correct dose can take a long time and in 30% of the people with Epilepsy, medication isn’t sufficient to control seizures. Surgery in order to remove affected brain area(s) or installing an electrical device to control seizures are other options, but these options are limited to more difficult cases.
Is neurofeedback an alternative to medication for seizures?
Reliance on medication is the traditional course of action, but it isn’t the only solution. People with seizures can learn to regulate and stabilize their brains through neurofeedback and achieve lasting results. Neurofeedback helps stabilize the timing in the brain. The brain’s timing is the electrical response that can go awry when someone has a seizure. Neurofeedback is a treatment option applicable to all types of seizures and helpful in the case of brain damage and brain abnormalities.
Thousands of healthcare professionals, including psychologists, doctors, and registered nurses, use brain training to help people dramatically decrease their seizures by increasing their brain’s stability. When the brain begins to demonstrate stability more consistently, a patient’s doctor can often reduce seizure medication.
Is there evidence that neurofeedback helps reduce seizures?
Epilepsy was one of the very first therapeutic applications of neurofeedback in 1972 when Barry Sterman eliminated seizures in a 23 year-old female epileptic, who then came off medication and got a driving licence. In this paper, Barry Sterman describes how he accidentally discovered how neurofeedback-trained cats were less susceptible to seizures when exposed to rocket fuel, and went on to replicate this remarkable discovery in monkeys and humans. He also summarises 18 separate peer-reviewed journal studies on neurofeedback for epilepsy over a 25 year period, covering 174 patients and an average success rate of 66%.
Barry, M.B. (2000). Basic concepts and clinical findings in the treatment of seizure disorders with EEG operant conditioning. Clinical Electroencephalography, 31(1).
Neurofeedback has been used to help countless seizure sufferers reduce their seizures. Unfortunately, many people with seizures don’t learn about neurofeedback because healthcare professionals, particularly neurologists, are largely unfamiliar with neurofeedback and its efficacy.
Brain training is exercise for the brain. In helping the brain strengthen its interconnectivity and timing, many epileptic seizures can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Like with exercise, it takes consistent practice to achieve results. Once the brain is more stable, neurofeedback can be stopped. In more complicated situations, some people benefit from periodic “maintenance sessions” to keep their brains operating smoothly.