On 18th May this year, as part of National Epilepsy Week, Epilepsy Action held a radio day with news, music, interviews, a play and other features broadcast on the charity’s website throughout the day.
One of the features was called “What’s the Alternative?” which looked at possible alternative treatments – including homeopathy – that patients can consider when conventional medicine fails to control the distressing symptoms of this severely debilitating condition. As well as featuring a short interview with BHA trustee Dr Sara Eames, the programme also heard from a patient who had experienced a remarkable improvement in her condition after having homeopathic treatment.
Through the charity, Health and Homeopathy contacted the patient who kindly agreed to tell her story. Respecting her wish to remain anonymous we have called her M.
Living with epilepsy
Looking back over her life M believes that she first started to experience epileptic symptoms in her late teens, although she didn’t recognise them as such at the time and it would be years later before she suffered from the seizures that would lead to a definitive diagnosis. These early symptoms ranged from feelings of déjà vu to times when it felt like a switch had been thrown causing her to be transported to another dimension.
“I could see the normal world but didn’t feel part of it,” she says trying to describe this strange sensation. “I could hear people around me talking but couldn’t retain the words long enough to understand what they were saying and I couldn’t speak myself. The overwhelming feeling was of terrible desolation and loneliness.”
Over the years M has acquired greater knowledge of the condition and now knows these strange sensations were partial seizures and a common characteristic of a certain type of epilepsy. It was while pregnant that M suffered her first tonic-clonic seizure – the medical name for the violent convulsions normally associated with the illness – which, at the time, doctors attributed to her pregnancy. But in 1974 M had another seizure when not pregnant and was referred to a neurologist. After having an electroencephalogram (EEG) examination, which measures the pattern of electrical activity in the brain, M was diagnosed with idiopathic temporal lobe epilepsy.
“I had a young family at the time and no relatives living nearby, so I was extremely anxious about the safety of my children. This in turn made me very depressed,” said M.
M was prescribed Phenobarbitone, an anti-epileptic drug (AED) which was the standard treatment for this type of epilepsy at that time. However, this powerful barbiturate failed to stop the seizures and caused unpleasant side-effects including tiredness, depression, poor memory and impaired cognitive ability. Some years later another doctor suggested she try a new drug, Carbamazepine. Sadly, the treatment and care of patients suffering from epilepsy in the region where M lived was somewhat uncoordinated, and as a result of a lack of communication between her doctors M was left taking both drugs for a number of years which, she now realises, was a mistake.
Seeking an alternative approach
To be diagnosed with such a serious chronic illness is devastating. Today there are a number of excellent support groups working to improve the quality of life for sufferers and promote a greater understanding of epilepsy. More clinics, staffed by specially trained nurses, have also been set up to help patients come to terms with their illness and provide the specialist medical and practical advice needed to assist them in living normal lives. Sadly, in the mid-seventies this was not the case and M found her local clinic unsatisfactory, so much so she had to rely on her GP for emotional support.
Although the seizures eventually ceased, the severe side-effects she was experiencing from the AEDs were having a negative impact on other areas of her life, in particular her career prospects. While working part-time as a clerk for a firm of solicitors, she was given the opportunity to qualify as a legal executive. But she found the side-effects from her medication were making studying impossible.
“My memory was so poor that I could be working on a case file all afternoon, but the next day I wouldn’t be able to remember the names of the family concerned,” she explains. “It was obvious I couldn’t hope to work at a professional level on the drugs I was taking.”
M consulted another doctor whose only advice was to continue with the medication. Having lost all faith in conventional medicine’s ability to help her, instead of seeking a referral to the neurology department of her local hospital she started to look for an alternative approach to managing her condition. And this is how she came to try homeopathy.
“This was twenty-seven years ago and although I can’t remember why I decided to try homeopathy, I do recall that I knew I wanted to see a medically qualified homeopath. So I contacted the Faculty of Homeopathy for advice and was given the details of two practitioners in my town,” says M.
“The first consultation with the homeopathic physician I chose to see lasted for about an hour. The doctor asked me all sorts of questions that covered every aspect of my life including what food I liked and disliked and whether I preferred hot temperatures or cold. I now realise this was helping her to draw up a complete picture of the patient she had before her, but it also allowed me to feel that I could confide in her and I eventually told her about an extremely upsetting episode from my past which was still haunting me.”
At the end of the consultation M was asked whether she believed in cause and effect. “I can’t remember the exact question, but I did tell her that I’ve always had a strong notion of this philosophical concept,” she says.
“Finally, the doctor said she wanted to think about my case and would get back to me.”
A little later the doctor contacted M saying she thought she might be able to help. At the next consultation M was prescribed the homeopathic medicines Natrum mur and Nux vomica.
“The doctor explained she wanted to reduce my conventional medication gradually, but was honest enough to tell me she didn’t know if I would be able to stop taking it completely,” says M. “I followed her instructions exactly and slowly, over a period of months, I began to notice my mood lifting. I felt better! It was actually like being reborn; everything became more vivid.
“At the time I was taking two AEDs three times a day, but gradually, following my doctor’s advice, I began to reduce this dosage by half a tablet. I would take this slightly reduced dose for a number of days and then decrease the dose by another half a tablet. All the time my condition was being closely monitored by the homeopathic doctor, whom I saw every two weeks. She had also instructed me to telephone her should I have any problems or concerns between appointments.”
Today, M is no longer taking AEDs and she’s not had an epileptic seizure for over twenty-five years.
While M attributes this remarkable transformation in her health to the care and treatment she received from her homeopathic doctor, she believes people with epilepsy should adopt a cautious approach if considering homeopathy or any other form of alternative therapy.
“Find out all you can about your condition,” she says. “Tell your doctors or epilepsy specialist nurse that you’re looking into the possibility of using homeopathy. Some people use homeopathy to ease the side-effects of the AEDs which is relatively straightforward. But if you’re thinking of reducing your AEDs you need to be aware that it might not be possible, as it depends on what is causing your condition. If the AEDs are working for you, then think very carefully about what you might lose if you reduce them and have a seizure.”
M is also eager to stress there is much better support for sufferers today than there was when she was first diagnosed with the condition. “The hospital clinic I attended twenty-five years ago no longer exists; its modern equivalent is very different! Although there is still a shortage in some parts of the country there are now more neurologists with a special interest in epilepsy, and more epilepsy specialist nurses.”
Excellent support and advice can also be obtained from Epilepsy Action which aims to improve the quality of life and promote the interests of people living with epilepsy. After receiving training M started working for the charity as an accredited volunteer, delivering epilepsy awareness sessions to any organisation that would like to learn more about the condition.
She also recognises the advances conventional medicine has made in the treatment of epilepsy.
“Better drugs are now available to patients and there is far greater understanding of the non-seizure aspects of the condition. But although conventional treatment has improved, life can still be very difficult for people with epilepsy. Even the new AEDs don’t always control seizures or ensure a comfortable existence; therefore I believe there is a role for homeopathy, but only if it’s used with care and professional advice.”
Even though homeopathy produced astonishing results in relation to her own health, M recognises there has been little research into the use of homeopathy as a treatment for epilepsy. Consequently, she believes it’s essential for anyone considering the possibility of using homeopathy to reduce their dependence on conventional medication to remain under qualified medical supervision. On no account should they stop taking their medication unless instructed by a specialist in controlled hospital conditions, which is occasionally done to allow specific tests to be carried out.
“Epilepsy is a very complicated condition and you need medical expertise, so be sure to choose a medically qualified homeopath from the Faculty of Homeopathy. If anyone advises you to stop taking your drugs suddenly, don’t listen to them, as this is potentially very dangerous.”
Epilepsy – facts and figures
- Epilepsy is a neurological condition affecting around 456,000 people in the UK, or one in 131 people has epilepsy.
- The condition is caused when there is a sudden excess of electrical activity in the brain, causing a temporary disruption in the normal level of communication between brain cells.
- If someone is diagnosed with epilepsy, it means they have a tendency to have seizures.
- There are around 40 different types of seizure and a person may have more than one type.
- Epilepsy can affect anyone, at any age and from any walk of life.
- Every day in the UK, 75 people are diagnosed with epilepsy.
- Only 52 per cent of people with epilepsy in the UK are seizure-free. It is estimated that 70 per cent could be seizure free with the right treatment.
- Many people with epilepsy are still discriminated against due to ignorance about the condition.
- Epilepsy is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
- Many people with epilepsy can take part in the same activities as everyone else, with the help of simple safety measures where appropriate.
- People who have been seizure free for a year can re-apply for their driving licence.
For further information, please visit the Epilepsy Action website at www.epilepsy.org.uk
Members of the public and healthcare professionals looking for confidential advice and information on many aspects of epilepsy can contact the Epilepsy Helpline on Freephone 0808 800 5050, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or text info to 07797 805390.