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Health, Science & Environment

Could yoga help people with epilepsy? A new Cleveland Clinic study aims to find a link between stress and seizures

A yoga class.
Dylan Gillis

For about a third of all epilepsy patients, anti-seizure medication doesn’t work.

That's why the Cleveland Clinic wants to study whether yoga, music therapy, or behavioral therapy could help people who still have seizures even after taking medication.

“When we talk to patients with epilepsy, they tell us—almost all of them—that they tend to have their seizures more often in periods of stress," said Dr. Imad Najm, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Charles Shor Epilepsy Center and the study’s principal investigator.

There have been studies before on the effects of yoga, music therapy, and behavioral health that show a possible benefit of the interventions on reducing seizures, Najm said. Those studies have mostly been small, nonrandomized studies, he said.

"But we do not have any scientific data that (can confirm) these results," he said.

This new study aims to create an algorithm to record the results of these holistic treatments on epilepsy, Najm said.

A little more than 1 percent of the U.S. population has active epilepsy, which is about 3.4 million people nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Epilepsy, unfortunately, is one of the most debilitating neurological disorders because of its chronic nature, because it affects people of all ages," Najm said.

Epilepsy can lead to depression and anxiety, and uncontrolled seizures can even lead to death, he said.

The stress of having seizures can often lead to more seizures.

“It’s like a vicious circle that stress induces more seizures, more seizures get them to be more stressed out," Najm said.

That stress can also lead people with epilepsy to forget to take their medication, which can then also lead to more seizures.

The study will follow a thousand participants for a year to see if any of the therapy interventions work to reduce seizures.

There will be five groups: Two control groups will receive standard epilepsy care and three intervention groups will undergo either cognitive-behavioral therapy, yoga therapy, or music therapy.

The study will analyze seizure frequency to determine whether any of the interventions made a difference.

Recruitment for the study starts March 7, 2022.

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Health, Science & Environment yogastressepilepsy
Lisa Ryan