Epilepsy Talk

Acupuncture for Epilepsy — Pros and Cons | June 15, 2014

A man who had experienced several grand mal seizures while asleep was diagnosed with Partial Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and his physician prescribed Dilantin.

“But,” he says, “I was afraid of the side-effects of medication. I have instead decided to try acupuncture and Chinese herbal mixtures.

I feel there is some control. I’ve had one seizure since I began treatment. At this point,” he says, “the treatment I have chosen seems much preferable to the mind-numbing and toxic effect of the usual prescription drugs.”

Barbara Drake, a New York artist, was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy at age 21. Several years later, she started acupuncture treatments for several years, spaced at weekly, then monthly, intervals.

During that time she was able to lower her medications.

“It hasn’t entirely controlled my seizures, but I’ve had fewer seizures and I’ve gained a greater awareness of my body,” she says.

“I always felt immensely relaxed after each treatment, with a renewed feeling of well-being.

My acupuncturist had, I thought, a far better understanding of my body than my neurologist. Her powers of observations were acute, too.

“One day when I went for a treatment, I told her I’d had a seizure the day before. ‘I thought so,’ she said. ‘The spleen spot on your leg is swollen.”

Acupuncture, which as been part of China’s medical heritage for over 3,000 years, was introduced into the United States and Canada in the 1970’s.

Since that time, it’s become one of the most frequently requested of the complementary therapies (to be used in conjunction with conventional medicine or other treatments.)

Concerns regarding the side-effects of pharmacological and neurosurgical approaches have increased interest in the use of complementary and alternative medicine.

Although there has been no evidence that acupuncture can directly improve a person’s epilepsy, it has been found to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, which (as you know), are the top triggers for seizures.

It can also improve well-being and underlying health, and help with headaches or fatigue associated with seizures.

The aim of acupuncture is not to just relieve symptoms, but to treat the cause of the illness — to treat the whole patient and to restore the balance between the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the individual.

In addition, these therapies may give people with epilepsy a sense of control over their bodies and lives and improve their sense of well-being.

And a growing number of people with epilepsy are finding that this ancient treatment helps them control seizures.

Whereas a physician takes our pulse to measure processes like heartbeat and blood loss, an acupuncturist reading our pulse obtains much more information about organs such as the stomach, spleen and liver, etc.

To an acupuncturist, the pulse shows the state of the energy systems, which mainstream medicine doesn’t even consider.

He or she divides the pulse into twelve main parts, six to a wrist, that correspond to the twelve main energy systems of our body.

Each organ is associated with a particular type of energy and each energy flows through the meridian.

By determining how energy is flowing throughout an individual’s body, a practitioner decides where to place the needles.

The actual process involves inserting very fine pins or needles into specific points on a person’s body to stimulate energy pathways and natural healing processes.

The depth of the insertion depends upon the area being treated.

The needles may be inserted for a few seconds or left in place for up to 30-40 minutes, stimulated by hand or by an electrically operated needle holder.

While the exact scientific mechanism behind this procedure is unknown, it has been suggested that acupuncture may trigger the release of natural pain-killing substances (endorphins) within the body or alter the body’s output of neurotransmitters.

There is some scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the treatment, but success is usually variable and limited.

Bob Clarke, L.Ac., an acupuncturist at the Open Gate Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine Clinic in Eugene, Oregon, says, “Acupuncture can be quite useful for epilepsy, depending upon the type and extent of a person’s epilepsy.”

He’s treated several people with epilepsy and says that treatment helped reduce the frequency and severity of their seizures.

“Acupuncture targets the cause of an illness,” he says, “although it may take some time for the effects to be felt. People who expect a quick fix will be disappointed. Those who stick with the treatment, though, have a better chance for success.” 

According to a 1998 consensus statement from the National Institutes of Health, acupuncture is clearly useful for a number of conditions, including migraine headaches, stroke rehabilitation, addiction and lower back pain.

Epilepsy may soon be added to this official list.


A recent study indicates that acupuncture carries low, but possible, risks.

A group of researchers examined over thirty years of medical literature, looking for cases where patients had been seriously harmed by acupuncture, found more than 110 serious injuries and four fatalities.

The most frequent problem: the piercing of a patient’s lung or surrounding tissue. These researchers say that all complications were due to the practitioner’s lack of skill.

It may be that the acupuncturists aren’t very skilled or it’s possible that, like some treatments, you feel worse before you get better. Or perhaps it just doesn’t work for you.

Since many US states now require practitioners to pass an exam before they can practice, such injuries should become even more rare.

Researchers advise the best ways to protect yourself:

1.) Ask for credentials. Seek a licensed practitioner who has trained at an accredited school; the typical licensed acupuncturist has 2,000 to 3,000 hours of training. Be advised that in 30 states, physicians can practice acupuncture without any training. States that do require doctors to study before practicing demand only 200 or 300 hours of work.

2.) Ask how much experience the practitioner has with acupuncture in general and treating epilepsy in particular.

3.) Make sure disposable needles are used to avoid infectious diseases from dirty needles. (In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration sanctioned the use of acupuncture when it reclassified acupuncture needles, putting them in the same group of medically accepted devices as scalpels and syringes.)


According to the National Institutes of Health, there are currently more than 10 million adults in the U.S. that have used acupuncture at some time in the past, or are using it currently.

There’s never been an acupuncture study in China with a negative result. What are the odds? About the same as a fair coin flip coming up tails 99 times in a row or a fair investor always beating the market.

Skeptics challenge these studies, but with so much evidence piled up in favor of the effectiveness of acupuncture, one wonders why there are still so many people who are skeptical of the practice.

If the evidence from millions of personal testimonies and from thousands of scientific studies doesn’t convince the skeptics, what will?

It may seem obvious to acupuncturists and to millions of their patients that the skeptics are crazy or just being obstinate.

Is it possible that millions of people could be wrong?

Well, yes, it is possible for millions of people to be wrong, but I must state up front that those skeptics who say that acupuncture doesn’t work, or that it is not an effective medical treatment for some ailments, are wrong.

The evidence from both personal testimony and from scientific studies clearly shows that acupuncture works and is an effective medical treatment for many ailments.


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  1. I love this article! I have found with alternative therapies more often than not and in treating a condition such as epilepsy it’s not just one sole therapy to bring about success if possible. My epilepsy was fully controlled with acupuncture, homeopathy, nutrition and massage. I have always frequented acupuncturists who are from China in particular as the whole philosophy is part of their culture, not to say there aren’t good acupuncturists elsewhere but research into their background, where they trained etc is essential. Superb information!


    Comment by Freya Symes — June 15, 2014 @ 6:51 PM

  2. I agree with you Freya. But there’s so little information and so many options (like AEDs) that it’s difficult to sort them out.

    Also, alternative medicine and complementary medicine carry their own fears and doubts.

    You really have to do your homework and be a bit brave to step outside the box.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 15, 2014 @ 10:02 PM

  3. This is very interesting, my son has seizure and we would like to get him off of as many meds as possible


    Comment by Donna Turner — August 28, 2018 @ 2:36 PM

  4. Can an Accupuncture treatment cause a seizure . I went for accup had a seizure 2 days later after not feeling good for 2 days

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Dori Eisenberg — August 5, 2022 @ 9:14 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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