Treating Epilepsy with Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Case Study

March 11, 2024

I began treating an 18-year-old female patient last summer with an epileptic seizure disorder. The seizures began at the age of 5, but transitioned to epilepsy a few months after starting her menstrual cycle at the age of 12. The severity of seizures ranged from staring episodes accompanied by difficulty talking, twitching and shaking, to gran Mal seizures. The seizures would always occur one week to a few days prior to the period, around day 21-27 of her cycle. Her menstrual cycle was slightly irregular, anywhere between 27-35 days. The episodes almost always occurred in the evening, and the patient described feeling “heat in her brain” right before a seizure.

 

In assessing this patient through the diagnostic lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine, her pattern presented as liver yang rising due to hormonal changes. In the luteal phase as progesterone rises, this increases yang qi in the body. The liver is responsible for moving qi smoothly, especially before and during the menses. When the liver does not cooperate, qi may stagnate or lead to chaotic movement of qi. Those with PMS might feel irritable or headachy a few days leading up to their bleed, which are classic liver qi stagnation symptoms. When the liver qi moves too chaotically due to rising progesterone, this contributes to rising liver yang, which may manifest as dizziness, anger, tinnitus, and a feeling of heat in most cases. In extreme cases, as with this patient, it may lead to neurological activity like seizures.

 

The extreme nature of this patient’s disorder is rooted in an underlying kidney essence deficiency, which is a genetic predisposition to illness or a constitutional disharmony at the time of birth or from a very young age. In TCM, the kidneys are intrinsically linked to brain health and neurological function.

When there is a weakness in the kidney life force, there may not be enough yin or yang to balance an individual’s constitution. In this patient’s case, her kidney yin has not been able to anchor the liver yang during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Thus, the acupuncture treatments with this patient have been focused on anchoring liver yang by supplementing kidney yin. Dietary, lifestyle and herbal recommendations were also provided to help support kidney yin, while subduing liver yang.

 

After treating this patient’s root cause of disharmony along with what manifestations arose, she had only 1 seizure within 6 months of consistent acupuncture treatments twice per month. That particular seizure was also completely unrelated to her menstrual cycle, and instead followed an emotionally traumatic incident, which may also cause liver yang to rise. The patient has continued acupuncture treatments regularly, and we are now focusing on overall stress reduction while she begins a new chapter in collegiate studies. I am very grateful for the dedication this patient and her family have given to her treatments, as well as to her other care providers who have helped her along the way.

 

Danielle Gaglini Hallowell, L.Ac., MAOM., Dipl.OM. is a New Hampshire and Maine licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who practices at the NH Health & Wellness Center in Nashua, NH. Her integrative treatment style incorporates various eastern, orthopedic and esoteric healing modalities to address disharmonies in the physical and energetic body. To schedule a session or for more information, email danielle@acupuncturenewengland.com or call 978-272-2402. If your health insurance covers out-of-network acupuncture, you may be reimbursed for your appointments.

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