Epilepsy Seizures

How Chinese medicine explains epilepsy seizures is very different from Western medicine, but still! The Chinese theory and approach to it has been used for millennia: probably longer than the Western model.

First - The Western medicine approach

You can find out about the Western approach at sites devoted to epilepsy: click here for one of them. The usual treatment is medication.

Briefly, the nerves in your brain are thought to 'fire' too often and too strongly, swamping your normal brain's electrical traffic and often forcing your body to spasm.

Worse, you may lose consciousness and could damage yourself. 

There are many kinds of seizure.

Next - The Chinese theory for seizures

Watch someone having epilepsy seizures and you'll see someone who often has too much activity in the upper part of their body, including

  • strange sensations, often before the full attack, sometimes hearing sounds or seeing lights that others don't see or hear
  • parts of their body may twitch or jerk
  • falling 
  • convulsing, violently jerking
  • even losing consciousness 

How does Chinese medicine explain this?

Like just about everything in Chinese medicine, it comes down to an imbalance between yin and yang.

In health, these are in balance, or return to balance naturally. For example:

  • on a hot day you get too warm for comfort (ie too much yang: yang excess), so either you perspire, during which your body increases its yin activity to cool you down, or you consciously do something to cool yourself, like wearing less, or turning on air-conditioning or standing in a cool draft of air. Also you find yourself getting thirsty; you stop racing around so much; you start thinking about ice-cream.
  • If you suffer from coldness, even hypothermia, (lack of yang: yang deficiency combined possibly with yin-excess or invasion of cold), you start to shiver (yang activity), you want to wear more clothes, you turn up the heating, you lean against a warm radiator; you prefer hot food and drinks.

But what if your body has lost its ability, for a while, to re-balance itself? Then the imbalance would continue until you exhausted yourself: for example, with excess-yang-type epilepsy seizures, you could say that it burns itself out, discharging the excess violently in spasms and with you 'blanking' out.

To explain this in Chinese medical theory, there are basically four syndromes which are seen again and again. These are described in more detail further down this page, or you can read a whole lot more about them by clicking on them. Their names are:

Of course, it's never quite that simple! Deeper questions arise such as - how did you get like this in the first place? (Well, trust me, the Chinese did think about this very carefully!)

If you get yang excess, there's usually a trigger that starts the excess Yang ascending, or produces the form of Heat called Damp-Heat. Also there's an underlying weakness or tendency (being the Kidney deficiency). In addition, treating one of your 'zang-fu' energy organs that is mis-functioning could provide a huge improvement.

Chinese medicine has ways to treat the excess and to correct the underlying susceptibility or weakness.

Usually during the epilepsy seizure, treatment is intended to palliate and shorten the attack.

Later, between attacks, they treat the susceptibility.

You can have more than one of those syndromes mentioned above at the same time. In fact, the longer you have had the problem the more likely it is that you will have more than one syndrome.

(By the way, to be accurate, Chinese medicine doesn't treat epilepsy seizures. Instead it treats the syndrome(s) that after careful examination it has diagnosed. In theory if it can't diagnose a syndrome to explain the condition, it's stuck! But Chinese medicine is such a huge subject, having been in continuous development for well over three thousand years, it's usually got something up its sleeve!)

More detail about the syndromes for epilepsy seizures

Liver Yang Rising

Headaches, noises in the ears, dizziness, irritability, restlessness: these are the kind of symptoms you get with Liver Yang Rising (click on the words in blue for much more information.)

If you get epilepsy seizures you'll perhaps recognise some of these symptoms as being a bit like the sensations you experience before the attack itself.

They are symptoms of what Chinese medicine describes as energy rising upwards to your head. Normally, your energy circulates down again along so-called acupuncture 'channels or meridians'. But if too much rushes in one direction it blocks the flow the other way, just as a huge crowd of people rushing in one direction blocks people walking in the opposite direction.

How do you get Liver Yang rising?

  • First, you need to have a tendency to deficiency of either Liver Yin or of Liver Blood.
  • Then you need a lot of stress! - ongoing and difficult to resolve. It could come from family, neighbours, work or just - life! The point is that it is excessive for you at that time of your life. Later in your life, or earlier, you might have managed it easily, but for a while it is too much: it pushes you towards epilepsy seizures.

Liver Wind

This cause of epilepsy seizures is a bit like Liver Yang rising, but with a huge increase in suddenness and intensity. It's called Liver Wind for a good reason.

If you've ever been out in a high wind, a tempest, storm or hurricane, you'll know things happen precipitously: doors slam, roofs depart, dustbin lids attack you. There is little time to react. And things are in constant motion as the wind rips through them.

So you can get, in addition, twitching, flushing, tremor and seizures.

How do you get Liver Wind?

Several ways:

  • Heat occurs, beyond your body's ability to cool it. This could be from a febrile illness or from extreme environmental or weather conditions like a heatwave, 
  • From Liver Yin deficiency, which itself occurs because of Kidney Yin deficiency. These are as if your body loses its ability to cool and stabilise itself.
  • From severe Liver Blood deficiency; often due to poor food.

Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder

To make more sense of this cause of epilepsy seizures you need to read about Damp and about Heat. Together they produce Damp-Heat and this is particularly a problem with Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder.

Think of it as heating your Liver which, if you are have ever had too much alcohol to drink (apologies to readers who don't drink alcohol, but even you may have seen people suffering from an alcoholic hangover), makes you feel wretched, nauseous, irritable, with red eyes and a headache ... as it tries to clear your system. 

© Petr Hros | Dreamstime.com - Red eye

That heat is transferred (too complicated to explain) to your Gallbladder and Liver channels which reach up to your head. So the Heat rises and blocks downward movement in the channels. Result? What we call an epilepsy seizure.

Why do you get Damp-Heat in your 'Gallbladder'?

The simplest answer is that you got it by putting the wrong stuff inside yourself: junk food, rich food, too spicy, too much alcohol, drugs. It's made worse in hot, damp environments. It's often because you ate the foods too fast or took too many drugs for your body to metabolise.

Read more about this under nutrition.

It's made more likely if you have a history of stress, causing Qi stagnation, which itself becomes another trigger. (Why does stress do this? Think of when you rub your hands together vigorously: you feel heat developing from the friction. Add in the wrong foods, and they cook inside you, producing damp-heat.)

It becomes like a huge internal cauldron full of burning oil, fuelled by the wrong foods and whipped up by strong emotions: very hard to put out by yourself. 

Fortunately, this syndrome usually takes time to develop. You have to work away at doing everything 'wrong' for a while, possibly for years - depending on your inherited constitution - before it begins!

By then, so much heat has built up that you may start to get other symptoms, like skin problems, red eyes, athlete's foot, vaginal discharges and headaches, not to mention intolerance and irritability. Clearing all this heat and damp takes time, even with good treatment.

However, as the heat and damp are gradually cleared, you would notice an improvement in your skin, your eyes, athlete's foot, discharges and headaches, your temper and ultimately, assuming Damp-Heat is the cause, in your epilepsy seizures.

Kidney Deficiency

Your Kidney energy supplies a kind of gravity in your body. (Without gravity, we'd all fly off into the sky!) In your body, its function is to anchor other energies, especially your Liver energy which, if you've read this far, you now realise is inclined to press upwards, potentially leading to epilepsy seizures.

In Chinese medicine, your Kidney energy is hugely important in keeping you balanced and in health. (For the moment, forget what your kidney organs do. Their function isn't overlooked in Chinese medicine but there are deemed to be other Kidney 'functions' that are more important in many ways. Read Kidney functions.)

How do you get Kidney Deficiency?

Unfortunately, in lots of ways, ageing being one of the main ones. But anything which overheats or overstrains you, especially if it happens too often or too strongly, can weaken your Kidney energy. You might not realise the consequences of what you did until some time, perhaps many years, later.

So a history of febrile diseases in youth, or the after-effects of sunstroke or severe sunburn, or the prevention with modern drugs of holiday diarrhoea (your body's attempt to clear heat) may all be influential, over time, in depleting your Kidney energy.

Some people are born with weakness: a genetic problem which may not have appeared as epilepsy in your parents but which may have been caused by your parents being in poor or weakened health at the time of your conception, possibly aggravated by events during your mother's pregnancy with you.

When that happens energy flies upwards more easily. You will be more restless and find it harder to concentrate, with poor endurance. 

However, all is not lost! Steady application of effort towards better self-discipline and the right foods, enough rest and exercise, and a supportive environment, can all help. 

Of course, acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a whole have a handle on this, so it's worth seeking professional help over a period of time. Don't leave it too late! Your Kidney energy depletes over life so it's harder to 'mend' as you grow old.

Please don't expect one session of acupuncture or a single dose of Chinese herbs to 'cure' the syndrome(s) causing your epileptic seizures. Chinese medicine can seem to cure some things like magic, but it isn't magic but the careful application of a 3000+ year old theory. Success can take time.

Treatment with Chinese medicine

There are various ways Chinese medicine and acupuncture has developed to deal with the syndromes that describe epilepsy seizures.

Which methods are best depends to some extent on the diagnosis. That diagnosis may show that, besides the four syndromes mentioned above there are others which have 'accumulated' over your life.

In which case, how to treat you and how fast you might expect to see improvement could depend on a whole range of factors.

  • What you eat and how you eat it 
  • The effect of any medication or social drugs you take
  • Your rest and sleep patterns
  • Your environment
  • Stress levels
  • Your relationships
  • Your health history and those of your parents
  • How long you've had your problem and how it started
  • How severe it is, and how frequent

Treatment methods

  • Acupuncture is a powerful method of treating people. It can often reduce your body's tendency to push your energy upwards and has been used for thousands of years both in acute and chronic conditions. But as explained, it does so by treating the syndrome behind your epilepsy seizures.
  • Chinese herbs are a great way to balance and strengthen you between epilepsy seizures: not much use during the attack because you are in no condition to take them! The Chinese herbal formulae you might be prescribed would almost certainly be aimed at calming Liver Yang and Liver Wind syndromes, or clearing Damp Heat, and strengthening your Kidney energy. It would be very unlikely to include formulae or herbs that increased yang or damp or heat, unless there were some other syndrome requiring it that was even more prominent than your epilepsy seizures syndrome. Note: Chinese herbs are not sold on taste.
  • Cupping can help, because it moves Blood and Qi, but is not the first treatment method I would usually choose.
  • Moxibustion is a great way of treating people, but it is inherently yang so not often chosen where there is an excess of yang, as in many forms of epilepsy seizures.
  • Guasha is a form of scraping that helps your body clear heat, so can be useful.
  • Tuina is a form of massage/manual treatment along your acupuncture channels or, at least, its theory is based on the theory of acupuncture channels. Like acupuncture, it can be very effective, but I would say that acupuncture is more effective (... screams of rage from tuina therapists ...) and can take longer, but ... a very pleasant way to help treat the syndromes behind epilepsy seizures.

What can YOU do?

  • Nutrition: vital! Food can really mess you up if you get it wrong, particularly with Damp-heat. What is more, the wrong foods or not enough foods of the right kind - for you - can lead to Blood deficiency, including Liver Blood deficiency, a potential cause of Liver Yang rising and Liver Wind. Avoid foods that are too rich or heavy: these can lead to Damp-Heat.
  • If you take medication - as you may, for epilepsy seizures - it is possible that the drug's side-effects are, for you, causing other problems. Read primary and secondary actions. However, please don't change or reduce or stop your medication without your doctor's knowledge. If you want to take Chinese herbs, you MUST tell your herbalist, who will have to consider whether there might be conflict between the herbs and the drugs you take, or whether taking both might confuse the situation. But tell anyone who is treating you as well! Note: some epilepsy medications affect your bones, which 'come under' Kidney energy in Chinese medicine, so these drugs may inadvertently weaken your bones and then your Kidneys, making you more susceptible to Liver Yang and Liver Wind: it seems you can't win!
  • Beware situations that adversely affect or drain your Liver Blood can lead to epilepsy seizures. In Chinese medicine your eyesight comes predominantly under your Liver energy and Blood. Read Liver Blood deficiency, and avoid eyestrain, for example from driving cars when you are tired, or long-distance or against oncoming night traffic; from lighting that disrupts your brain, making too much of a drain on your Liver Blood's resources, like strobe or flash lighting, or very bright screens or even staring at your computer or smartphone for too long. By the same reasoning, playing computer games, though fun, may be a problem. So could doing without sleep, or dancing to exhaustion or intense sessions of decision-making which drains both Liver Blood and your Gallbladder energy. All these examples can lead, if the syndrome fits, to epilepsy seizures.
  • Social drugs, including recreational drugs, whether alcoholic or otherwise, can really mess up your Liver energy. Reduce them if you can and improve your nutrition to help your body overcome the nutritional deficiencies they caused. All drugs can deplete the benefits you get from sleep, and may prevent it, especially if you take strong yang-enhancing drugs.
  • Reduce stimulants like coffee. Coffee uses up Kidney yin energy. That leads to a greater likelihood of yang escaping upwards as with Liver Yang rising and Liver Wind. However, if you are yang deficient, a small amount may help. (SMALL amount!!) Ask your acupuncturist: it can be tricky to understand because you may be yang deficient at one time of day or month and yin deficient at another.
  • Try not to live in a constant state of near-exhaustion stress: this drains your Kidney energy, making you more susceptible to Liver Yang rising and Liver Wind.
  • Meditation: can help to still the mind. The mind has a massive effect on the workings of your body, so by stilling your mind you may be able to still your body. But it takes practice over years, and needs to be continued. It also benefits sleep.
  • Tai Chi. This system of 'exercise' is aimed not just to get you mobile and fit, but eventually, could or should become a form of moving meditation. Since it is a form of exercise, it moves your Qi, leading to less stress and less Qi stagnation. That helps to discharge your tendency to Liver Yang excess. Also, good for sleep.
  • Exercise in general is good, unless it leads you to become stressed, as may some competitive situations. The exercise should be physical: just walking is good. For more, read this and that. Assists good sleep.
  • Yoga is great, but not if done competitively. It should be calm and de-stressing. It is another form of meditation, helps to prevent Qi blockages in your joints, exercises your core muscles, enhances the health of your inner organs, and shows you how to breathe properly. Then you sleep better.
  • Make a huge effort to improve your sleep patterns naturally.

Is that it?

No. There's more, because underlying the four syndromes that I've described are others that may need treatment. They can seem somewhat remote from your situation, but they might actually, in Chinese medicine, be quite important.

Often they would explain other factors about your health, or tend to push your body towards the syndromes described, like a kind of wind behind you, always blowing you in one direction.

Some of them derive from what one might call 'personality features': others are long-term and deep-seated, though not impossible to treat.

'Personality features' might include that you are a naturally 'Fiery' individual, friendly and warm, perhaps a bit of an exhibitionist, but often good at inspiring others. (Or one of the other personality types that Chinese medicine has identified. I have pages on them in preparation.)

Of the latter, more deep-seated conditions, as an example you could read about 'chong-mo'. This has to do with Blood at an even deeper level. (NB It gets a bit technical so is not a very easy read.)


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