Epilepsy and Acupuncture

By Diana Post, M.D.
Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School

Diana Post, M.D., is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Question:

Is there any evidence that acupuncture can help patients with epilepsy?

Answer:

It is sometimes difficult to treat epilepsy, or seizures, using medications. The drugs often have many unpleasant or dangerous side effects. This has led to the interest in alternative ways to treat epilepsy. Some people have tried acupuncture treatments to control seizures.

Acupuncture is part of the traditional health practice of China. It is based on the general theory that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body. Disruptions in the flow are believed to cause disease. Acupuncture is felt to correct imbalances of flow by stimulating certain anatomical points on the body. Practitioners use very thin solid needles inserted into these specific points to correct the imbalance of Qi.

Acupuncture is quite safe. In this country, sterile single-use disposable needles must be used to prevent infection. The treatment site should be swabbed with alcohol or another disinfectant before needles are inserted. Very, very rarely are serious side effects seen, including infections and punctured organs.

There have been promising results from studies looking at acupuncture for treating certain conditions, including chronic pain, nausea and vomiting, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and headaches. Unfortunately, despite many studies that looked at acupuncture's use for epilepsy, it has never been proven to be effective. The quality of most of these studies has not been good. The few well-done studies found that acupuncture did not reduce the number of seizures people had.

I do not believe that current evidence can support the use of acupuncture as a treatment for epilepsy (seizures). More good research is definitely needed.

Last Annual Review Date: 2007-08-02T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Harvard Health Publications

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Epilepsy affects as many people as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and cerebral palsy combined. It creates an estimated $15.5 billion in medical costs and lost earnings and production each year.