Study: Mindfulness Techniques May Reduce Epileptic Seizures

Feb 14, 2018

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are studying how mindfulness techniques may help people living with epilepsy.

Participants who employed progressive muscle relaxation, specialized deep breathing called diaphragmatic breathing, and a mood and stress diary saw a 29 percent drop in seizures. A second group keeping daily activity logs and the stress diaries experienced a 25 percent decrease.

UC Epilepsy Center Director Michael Privitera, MD, calls those results statistically significant.

"We think the results are very promising," he says. "It's a non-invasive treatment that's easy to do, that anybody could apply who has medication-resistant epilepsy. They don't have to change their medicines and it's pretty easy to teach so we think it would be a good adjunct."

The study confirms that a behavioral stress reduction approach was effective and well-adopted by patients. The progressive muscle relaxation successfully reduced stress, but the connection to how it reduced seizures remains unknown. I think this highlights the need for larger studies of this kind which target behavioral therapy techniques to improve the quality of life for patients with epilepsy," says Privitera.

That's just what the team aims to do next.

"We're actually planning a study that will add a number of different other parameters including EEG and physical parameters like pulse, blood pressure (and) things like that to try to see if we can get a better handle on who the people are that would seem to be more responsive to the stress reduction."

The findings are reported in the Feb. 14 issue of Neurology.

How The Study Worked

The study enrolled 66 patients and provided two behavioral interventions: one group of patients were instructed to adopt a practice of deep diaphragmatic breathing as well as controlled muscle tensing and relaxing while a control group used focused attention techniques coupled with extremity movements without the muscle exercises.

Progressive muscle relaxation is the practice of holding or tensing a muscle group for a few seconds as you inhale, and then relaxing the muscle again as you exhale, repeated with all muscle groups in the body. Participants listened to an audio recording to guide them through the practice, taking about 5 to 15 minutes daily.

In addition, the second group of patients was asked to write down their daily activities of a previous day.  All participants kept twice-daily electronic diaries of mood and stress variables, and adherence rate was high—with a nearly 85 percent diary completion rate.

Both techniques showed improvement in patients. Compared to baseline, seizure frequency reduced in the group practicing muscle relaxation by an average of 29 percent, and the focused attention group reduced by 25 percent.  "Both groups showed a statistically significant reduction of seizures. Only the muscle relaxation group showed a significant reduction of self-reported stress," says Privitera.