Epilepsy Talk

Brain Surgery Alternatives | March 24, 2017

“It’s not brain surgery.” And it doesn’t have to be.

There are a host of epilepsy procedures that are minimally invasive.

For example…

The Vagus Nerve Stimulation

(VNS) has been used to treat more than 30,000 epilepsy patients worldwide.

It’s designed to prevent or interrupt seizures or electrical disturbances in the brain for people with hard to control seizures.

Used in conjunction with anti-seizure medications, the VNS uses electrical pulses that are delivered to the vagus nerve in the neck and travel up into the brain.

It’s not clear how this inhibits seizures, but the device can reduce seizures by 20 to 40% and completely control seizures in about 5% of people.

Side effects of vagus nerve stimulation include hoarseness, throat pain, coughing, shortness of breath, tingling and muscle pain.

Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation

TNS is a new nerve stimulation therapy that requires NO SURGERY and reduces seizures among those who are drug resistant by about 40 percent.

A recent clinical trial showed that at the end of the 18-week study, 40 percent of patients receiving TNS experienced a significant improvement in seizure reduction.

The TNS system has two components: a hand-held pulse generator — which is about the size of a cell phone — that creates the electrical signal and a disposable custom electrical patch — much like a gel pad — that delivers the signal to its target, the trigeminal nerve.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

TMS is a noninvasive type of brain stimulation which uses a strong magnet held outside the head to deliver electromagnetic currents to alter the electrical activity in the brain.

This therapy has shown great promise for reducing seizures by reducing neuronal excitability.

Some of the earliest studies found that transcranial magnetic stimulation can induce a prolonged period of protection from the types of electrical activity that cause seizures.

Case studies have found that this technique can reduce seizure frequency by over 60% in some patients.

In addition, researchers found that the TMS treatment also improved the mood of participants. Since depression is a common problem in people with epilepsy, this finding could have significant impact on the quality of life for people who suffer from the disorder.

The most serious side-effect associated with transcranial magnetic stimulation is a headache, though there is a small risk of seizure during this treatment. However, this risk is low and this technique is considered to be safe.

Deep Brain Stimulation

(DBS) may offer a new treatment option for fighting epileptic seizures in those who don’t respond well to other therapies.

Similar to the VNS, it’s minimally invasive and consists of implanting tiny electrodes in the brain that release electrical pulses, reducing the frequency of partial seizures and secondarily generalized seizures.

It also has the ability to constantly analyze brain activity, then deliver the correct electrical stimulation.

Overall, researchers say more than half of those treated experienced a reduction in seizures of at least 50%.

Clinical studies have found that it is generally safe, with the adverse effects being transient and mild.

However, one of the advantages of deep brain stimulation is that it can be switched off — if side-effects appear — and the entire procedure is reversible.

Laser Surgery 

Revolutionary laser surgery — a safer, less invasive alternative to brain surgery as we know it — has slowly been achieving success with brain tumor patients.

Instead of the more traditional craniotomy, in which a bone flap is removed from the skull, neurosurgeons are using MRI-guided laser technology to destroy lesions in hard-to-access regions of the brain.

“This is a tool for patients with tumors who have been told they do not have other options” — Shabbar F. Danish, MD, of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital — says about laser-assisted thermal ablation.

“This is also a viable option for patients who do not want radiation therapy or general anesthesia. Additionally, we can take their hospital stay from four to seven days down to 24 hours.”

The procedure marries the precision of navigation tools…with an MRI-guided laser probe that’s as small and light as a pen.

“What this does is you just have to make a hole that will take you to the middle of the tumor, and (ablate) the tumor.”

It’s actually done in the MRI suite, so when the probe is confirmed to be in the correct position in the MRI suite you heat it and you can watch directly on the MRI scanner what area is being heated using the program.

After that you can do another MRI scan, since the patient is already there, to show if the tumor is gone. So you have instant gratification.”

Gamma Knife Surgery

A number of clinics now offer Gamma Knife Surgery for some kinds of epilepsy, and researchers are working to improve this type of procedure.

Gamma knife surgery, which uses a minimally invasive tool, delivers radiation treatment as though it were an actual knife, offering the kind of precision and targeting as surgery.

These finely focused radiation beams intersect at a specific region of the brain to alter the cells in that region.

In many cases, this can stop the abnormal electrical activity that causes the seizures.

A study of gamma knife surgery in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, found that 67% of the treated patients were seizure-free 2 years after surgery.

Another study published looked at the use of gamma knife surgery to perform callosotomy in patients with severe generalized epilepsy with drop attacks.

The results were comparable to a traditional callosotomy, in which a band of nerve fibers connecting the two halves (hemispheres) of the brain are cut, disabling communication between the hemispheres and preventing the spread of seizures from one side of the brain to the other.

(This procedure, sometimes called split-brain surgery, is for patients with extreme forms of uncontrollable epilepsy who have intense seizures that can lead to violent falls and potentially serious injury.)

Researchers are continuing to test gamma knife surgery to learn what types of epilepsy can be effectively treated, what radiation frequencies are best, what type of pre-surgical testing is necessary, and what benefits and side-effects are possible with this type of surgery.


Since the 1970′s, researchers have demonstrated in over 50 controlled studies that a special form of brain wave biofeedback — now called “neurofeedback” — safely and effectively “retrains” the brain to stabilize its activity.

The treatment has been used successfully with all types of seizure disorders. Often the effects are permanent.

The procedure begins by attaching EEG electrodes to the body to gauge brain wave activity. And the learning takes place by practicing computer “game” challenges while receiving positive reinforcement from the computer.

One of the most beneficial aspects of biofeedback is the reduction of stress in everyday life, which in turn, also helps reduce seizures.

According to research, approximately 50% seizure control is attained within approximately 2-3 months and full seizure control can occur somewhere between 6-18 months.

However, the drawback is that biofeedback is not covered by health insurance, requires many treatments, and is expensive.

Cell Transplantation

Another emerging approach for treating epilepsy is cell transplantation.

Researchers can transplant either mature cells or stem cells derived from fetal tissue.

Cells used for transplant are sometimes genetically engineered to produce substances to reduce seizures or protect neurons from damage.

Cell transplantation therapies for epilepsy are still in preliminary stages of development.

However, the encouraging results of animal studies suggest that this type of therapy may eventually be used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in humans.

One study tested whether transplanting GABA producing cells into the brains of rats could suppress seizures. (GABA cells are neurotransmitters that slow down the activity of nerve cells in the brain.)

The cells raised GABA levels in the brain tissue, raised the seizure threshold, shortened the duration of brain discharges after seizures, and slowed the development of seizures.

Another study tested the effect of neural stem cell transplantation in rats with status epilepticus induced by a toxin.

The neural stem cells inhibited and decreased neuron excitability.

Yet another study found that grafting specific types of fetal hippocampal cells into the brains of adult rats with toxin-induced brain lesions, reduced the amount of abnormal nerve fiber growth in the brain.

The grafted cells also developed connections with other regions of the brain, suggesting that they may be able to form functional brain circuits.

Gene Therapy

The discovery of gene mutations that cause specific epilepsy syndromes has led to the possibility of using gene therapy to counter the effects of these mutations.

In gene therapy, researchers typically use viral vectors — transmitting modified genetic material — to introduce new genes into brain cells.

Viruses can also be used to introduce genes for proteins such as GABA into non-neuronal cells.

These cells are then transplanted into the brain to act as “factories” to produce potentially therapeutic proteins.

One advantage of gene therapy is that it can alter the cells in just one part of the brain.

Researchers can control the activity of the introduced genes by using a genetic “switch” that responds to antibiotics or other chemicals.

This allows doctors to turn the gene therapy off if it causes intolerable side-effects or other problems.

Theoretically, this type of therapy should last longer and cause fewer side-effects than medication.

Hormone Imbalances

Females who have epilepsy often have increased severity of their seizures at specific points during their menstrual cycle — known as catamenial epilepsy — when progesterone levels are low.

Research has found that estrogen increases neuronal excitability and progesterone reduces neuronal activity, which suggests that an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone could increase seizure frequency.

Lower progesterone levels are also associated with more frequent seizures in women, and elevated estrogen levels during perimenopause also appear to increase the possibility of seizures.

Progesterone restoration therapy has been studied as a possible treatment for epilepsy and initial results have been promising.

The effects of hormones on epilepsy still needs to be better defined since some studies have suggested that estrogen can have pro-epileptic and anti-epileptic results, depending on the levels.

Also, women are not the only patients that can have their epilepsy affected by sex hormone levels. Testosterone and its metabolites also have anti-seizure effects.

In a case report of a man with post traumatic seizures, testosterone therapy caused his seizures to lessen and nearly disappear.

These findings suggest that maintaining optimal testosterone levels may lessen seizure disorders in men. (Free testosterone is a good indicator of testosterone activity; optimal levels are 20 – 25 pg/mL.)


Naturopathic medicine treats the whole person, taking into account the interaction of physical, mental, and emotional factors as causes of a condition.

It seeks to recognize the importance of the whole person instead of just single organ systems or particular symptoms.

When it comes to epilepsy, naturopathy and a range of related treatment methods may have a good deal to offer, as long as it is coordinated with your neurological care.

Options include: aromatherapy, acupuncture, behavior control, massage, yoga, meditation, stress management and vitamins, to name just a few.


The main argument for treating epilepsy — or any disease — with homeopathy is the concept that each patient is different.

Though they may be diagnosed with the same disease or disorder, their symptoms are different, as are their responses to treatment and medication.

This is why people believe there are many benefits to treating epilepsy based on symptoms rather than the generalized disease.

By being able to zero in on exact symptoms which patients are experiencing, it’s believed that homeopathy will have a better chance of treating those specific symptoms.

Alone, homeopathy may not help all cases of epilepsy.

But together with conventional treatment, it’s seen success as a supportive line of treatment.

And in cases of drug-resistant epilepsy, people often do respond significantly to homeopathy.


Therapy can go a long way towards reducing the fear, anxiety, depression, and isolation of epilepsy.

Sure, your epilepsy isn’t going to disappear. But learning to accept it, live with it and become a survivor rather than a victim, can go a long way to a happy and productive life.

I had epilepsy for 20+ years. And I know for a fact, that therapy has been a life-saver for me.

But ultimately, like everything else, your choice of treatment is just that. A decision you make that’s hopefully well-informed and best suits your particular circumstances.

No one can tell you what to do, or which course is best. It’s your choice.

But it’s always good to know you have options.

And if you have a particular treatment that has worked especially well for you — please sing out and let us know!

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  1. With all these therapies you suggest, I did not see one of them that say that therapy can limit & control both GLUTAMATE and GLUCOSE levels to stay stable in a human brain. This seems to be what is missing or not just talked about, to where all people may be suffering with all types of seizures one may be living with. Please look into the study that had been done in Israel. They did a test on their own military POW’s with all types of neurological problems. The somehow used enzymes to treat the persons blood from too much GLUTAMATE they had, & the glutamate reduced in the blood, keeping it from their brain collecting that excess of glutamate the person had, which was causing their problem. KELLYKENNEDY@MILITARYTIMES.COM Why the NIH, Johns Hopkins University, MAYO CLINIC & other clinical trial places ignores this, is no mystery to me. They are afraid it may work for us all, & that NITRATES, NITRITES, MSG & ASPARTAME diet drinks & foods will maybe proven to be found as a BIG TRIGGER or ROOT CAUSE as to why we all have seizures. Investigate & think about it. It’s a REALITY here, but so what, is how the medical world thinks towards me over 56 years.


    Comment by C D — March 24, 2017 @ 9:18 PM

  2. RE: Magnet Therapy — “Cognitive side effects limit the clinical use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), currently the most effective and rapid acting treatment for severe depression.”

    A very interesting article you should read.


    No, I have never heard of “Emotion Code” Therapy, but from your description, I have problems enough with anxiety and depression and take Effexor and Klonopin with my Lamictal.

    For you, it seems to have exacerbated a minor condition into a major one. And I agree, the magnets might have triggered this whole drama.

    Obviously, what works for one, doesn’t work for all. 😦


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 25, 2017 @ 10:51 AM

  3. Dear Phylis,

    I am so grateful for all of the information you share. I have a question.

    Have you heard anything about “Emotion Code” therapy? They use a huge powerful hand held magnet up and down your spine multiple times. A dear friend of mine was trained to treat stuck emotions using this type of treatment.
    I trust my friend and know she’d never put me in harms way but within days after she treated me with the magnets in January 2016 I had my second ever panic attack.(first attack was about 10 years prior, after a trip and fall hitting my head.) Both times, went to ER and was checked over thoroughly then sent home calling it a panic attack. Then after the magnet treatment in January 2016, two days after the initial ER visit, I was back in ER again having another horrible panic attack.This time they kept me overnight for all sorts of tests checking my heart, etc.
    I was sent home again after 23 hours with recommendations to see an anxiety therapist and consider anti anxiety meds. I saw my naturopathic doctor. Everything checked out well. He ordered an EEG, CT scan and MRI. MRI and CT we’re both okay but EEG was abnormal. He was convinced it was only the anxiety. (I had been under extreme stress for a few months leading up to this) so we did nothing med wise. I was going to try neurofeedback but I decided to wait and see if reducing stress helped. This all came about in February. I was able to drive on a long trip…and continued driving as usual week into summer, no problems. Normal life continued, making business decisions, etc. Then in July I saw a neurologist/sleep study specialist about my mild sleep apnea (reviewing my history including the EEG she suddenly shifted from sleep apnea and announced I was having seizures and could no longer drive and should be on meds right away. Shocked, I had many questions and opted for second opinion. That wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. No neurologist locally would see me because they were either not taking new patients or they had nothing to add to her diagnosis. After 6 months of fighting this dilemma I finally got an appointment with one out of my area but that appointment would be 4 months away.
    Meanwhile, I finally gave in to taking meds for anxiety. Lexapro. (I was originally set up to take 10mg but I was allowed try only 5mg. Some concern that it could lower seizure threshold?) The lexapro has helped for anxiety.

    Although I’m not aware of any sort of seizure activity, I’m obeying the original neurologist’s inductions and not driving. I respect the reasons, but it has been difficult. I was always the designated driver for friends and family, pleasure or business. Also I run a business and never had a problem but now I’m afraid something unexpected could happen.

    Still I do not know if I’m actually having any sort of seizure. This brings me back to the strong magnet treatment. After the magnet experience in January 2016 my life seemed to take a nasty turn, becoming an intermittent nightmare of panic attacks until I started taking the Lexapro. Yet, I still have these “off” sensations in my head. The panics suddenly coming on only days after the magnet session makes me question it. I still find myself thinking the magnets might have triggered this whole drama. Could the strong magnet have messed with my brain? (If so, that presents a very awkward situation because my friend would be devastated if she knew I was questioning her treatments.)
    Could the same magnets reverse any possible damage? I am not excited about taking any seizure med, I’m anxious to meet with the new neurologist.

    Complicate this further…this most recent January I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve had two surgeries for that. Now I’m waiting for the pathology report which will determine my treatment plan.

    It’s all so frustrating… I’ve lived and eaten very healthy, doing yoga, riding my bike, taking good supplements that are brain healthy and heart healthy and have a positive attitude. I feel fine 95% of the time so I really do not want to be on anti seizure meds. If I need care, I’d like to try the alternative, non heavy med approach. That will be a challenge when meeting with the neurologist, I’m sure.

    I’ve rambled on and on. I’m sorry this is so long and mixed up but I was hoping you can follow my crazy story and have heard of some of this (magnets esp.).


    Comment by vyvyann — March 28, 2017 @ 9:28 PM

  4. Already had brain surgery and I have a van. I was told I will always have to take medications because of the location of the cause of my seizures. The couldn’t completely remove all of it.


    Comment by Vickie Roy — December 3, 2017 @ 4:20 PM

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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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