Mindfulness, meditation and other stress-relieving exercises may reduce risk of seizures
09/23/2018 // Jessica Dolores // Views

Prevention, as they say, is still the best cure. Brain disorders like epilepsy can strike anytime, anywhere. Its consequences, like loss of consciousness, hamper our relationships, our work and normal activities. Most of all, epilepsy threatens patients' safety. That's why it pays to be prepared.

One of the best ways to do this is through stress management. A study published in Neurology showed how epilepsy patients can prevent an attack by learning relaxation techniques.

Dr. Sheryl R. Haut of Montefiore Medical Center, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY, and the American Academy of Neurology says drugs that have been developed to fight epilepsy aren't enough to fight the scourge. One-third of patients still have seizure attacks. And the most common culprit is stress.

This being the case, the medical expert believes in the power of relaxation techniques to help patients. (Related: Researchers make the case for lowering your expectations: “It may be the key to happiness”)

This is where the study on stress-reducing techniques and seizures comes in. Participants were 66 patients who still had seizures despite medication. They persisted in having at least four attacks around two months before the study took off.

Participants met a psychologist who shared behavioral techniques with the participants and asked them to apply these methods twice a day for three months while an audio recording guided them. They were asked to practice the technique one more time during the day when they sensed a seizure was coming. They filled out an electronic diary, where they logged in stress levels and other factors like sleep and mood.


Half, or 33 of the subjects learned progressive muscle relaxation to reduce stress. Each muscle is tensed and relaxed, and breathing techniques go along with it. The control group, on the other hand, practiced focused attention. This group did away with muscle relaxation and focused on developing attention by writing down their activities from the day before. Participants and those who evaluated the results didn't know who belonged to the treatment and/or the control group, and who did not.

Almost equally effective results

Researchers expected that the treatment group (the one with practiced muscle relaxation) would fare better than those who did not. So they were surprised to find out that both groups showed almost the same level of improvement. Participants in the muscle relaxation group had 29 percent less seizures. The focused attention group, on the other hand, registered 25 percent less epileptic attacks.

Judging from an almost 85 percent diary completion rate, Haut concluded that participants were eager to join the study and see it through.

She added that both groups may have enjoyed the same benefits from stress reduction because of their regular meetings with the psychologist and the daily monitoring of their moods, stress levels and other related factors. This allowed them to better understand symptoms and take action when they feel stressed, thus preventing a possible epileptic attack. She concluded that either way, the study proved one thing: Stress-reducing techniques helped people with hard-to-treat epilepsy.

The study, supported by Shor Foundation for Epilepsy Research and the Epilepsy Foundation, needs fine-tuning, though. Haut wants more people to undergo the experiment for the results to become more reliable. She also thinks other stress-reduction techniques, like mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, should be tested. This way, she and her group can pinpoint which stress-reducing technique can really improve epileptic patients' quality of life.

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