Can epilepsy be cured?

  • February 22, 2024
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Women talking about whether epilepsy can be cured

Did you know that there are 3.4 million people with epilepsy in the USA? That’s more than the entire population of the state of Iowa (where 3.2 million people live). After strokes, dementia and migraines, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological (brain) disorder in the country. 

Seizure disorders are widespread and affect millions of people’s lives. So can epilepsy be cured? Let’s find out more about current treatments for epilepsy - and the possible future for research. 

Can epilepsy be cured?

The short answer is ‘no’. Epilepsy cannot be cured in the sense of ending a medical condition so that a person no longer has symptoms. Unlike diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox or cholera, there isn’t yet a single treatment you can take to completely end your seizures. 

But while epilepsy doesn’t yet have a cure in the traditional sense of the word, there are many highly effective ways of treating epilepsy available today. These treatments for epilepsy mean that many people can live seizure-free for the long term. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 70% of people with epilepsy could achieve seizure freedom with the right treatment. 

There’s also the fact that many people seem to ‘grow out’ of epilepsy, entering terminal remission (being seizure free for five or more years). Most studies have looked at people who were diagnosed with seizures when they were children, but they suggest that between 65% and 70% of people eventually enter terminal remission. 

With the guidance of their doctors, some people who are in remission are able to permanently stop taking epilepsy medication too. 

What treatments for epilepsy are available?

While seizure disorders can’t be ‘cured’ as such, there is an ever-growing range of effective treatments for epilepsy available that help many people manage the condition. These include:

  • Epilepsy brain surgery

Brain surgery is the closest we have to a ‘cure’ for epilepsy. For some people, it’s possible to find the exact part of the brain which causes their seizures and remove it. According to studies, between one half and two-thirds of people who have epilepsy brain surgery achieve complete seizure freedom, while others have fewer seizures than before. 

Real life story: Read about Nicole’s experience of epilepsy brain surgery

  • Epilepsy medication

There are many different medicines for treating epilepsy, and up to two-thirds of people who take epilepsy medication find it helps either prevent or reduce the number of seizures they have. That said, around one-third of people have ‘refractory’ epilepsy, which means their seizures continue despite taking medicine. 

  • Epilepsy devices

For people whose epilepsy cannot be treated with medication or brain surgery, there are different kinds of medical devices that can be implanted in their bodies to help reduce the number of seizures they have. These devices can make seizures less severe too. Devices include vagus nerve stimulation, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS). 

  • Diets

Certain diets are known to help manage epilepsy. In particular, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet helps with treating epilepsy for many people. 

  • New treatments

There are also several emerging treatments for epilepsy, including the use of cannabidiol (CBD), among others. 

Can epilepsy be cured with new research?

Since the year 2000, the American Epilepsy Society and some of its partners have been setting ‘benchmarks’ for epilepsy research and treatments. Over the last 23 years, they report that there have been multiple breakthroughs and advances in our understanding of why epilepsy happens and how to treat it. 

Although we don’t yet have a cure for seizure disorders, all this research gives reason to be optimistic about treatments for epilepsy in future. It’s impossible to know if there will ever be a single, permanent, and simple solution to the condition, but this research is certainly helpful.

On many measures, the long-term outlook for people with epilepsy has improved in recent decades. For example, a study in Austria found that people diagnosed with epilepsy in the year 2000 had a higher life expectancy than people diagnosed in 1980. 

So, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect things to keep improving. 

…and you can contribute too

All around the world, epilepsy centers and universities are conducting trials with new epilepsy treatments. By volunteering to take part in studies, you can help researchers advance our knowledge of epilepsy. 

If you’d be interested in taking part in trials, talk to your doctor at your next appointment.

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