Epilepsy Treatment Drugs

Epilepsy medication is usually the first treatment option doctors will try after an individual is diagnosed with epilepsy. Anti-epilepsy drugs are usually taken orally as capsules, tablets or liquid. Epilepsy medication doesn’t “cure” epilepsy , but rather works to manage and treat the symptoms of epilepsy (seizures).

How Does Epilepsy Medication Work?

Epilepsy treatment drugs alter the electrochemical activity in the brain in order to prevent the occurrence of seizures. Your doctor will prescribe the correct drugs for your epilepsy treatment depending on your:

  • Age
  • Frequency of seizures
  • Other known medical conditions
  • Seizure type
  • Sensitivity to side effects.

Effectiveness of Epilepsy Medication

According to The Epilepsy Foundation of America®, approximately 50 percent of people with epilepsy become seizure-free on epilepsy medication, and another 20 percent experience a reduction in the frequency of their seizures.

There are many different drugs for epilepsy treatment, and some work best for certain types of seizures. If one medication doesn’t work, your doctor will prescribe a different medication or even multiple anti-epilepsy drugs.

Seizure treatment with one drug is known as “monotherapy,” and treatment with two or more anti-epilepsy drugs is called “polytherapy.” According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 50 percent of people will be seizure-free with the first epilepsy medication they are prescribed.

Side Effects of Epilepsy Treatment Drugs

Some people experience minor side effects from their epilepsy medication. Other people experience severe side effects or none at all. If you’re trying epilepsy medication for the first time, you may experience some rather serious side effects initially until your body adjusts to the medication. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Behavioral problems (i.e. hyperactivity in children)
  • Bone density loss
  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty learning or remembering things
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Speech problems
  • Weight gain.

Less common—but more serious—side effects of epilepsy treatment drugs include:

  • Depression
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Increased number of seizures
  • Inflammation of organs
  • Liver failure.

People who are taking more than one type of epilepsy medication are more likely to experience severe side effects. Severe side effects could also be an indication that the dosage is too high. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about your anti-epilepsy drugs, including how they might interact with any other medications you’re taking, including birth control.

Drugs for Epilepsy Treatment: Long-Term Outlook

Some people stop taking their epilepsy medication after a few years, while others stay on it their whole lives. Anti-epilepsy drugs must always be stopped gradually. Stopping suddenly could trigger severe seizures.

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, over 50 percent of children with seizures controlled by anti-epilepsy drugs will eventually be able to stop taking their medication and stay seizure-free. Many adults will also be able to stop taking medication once they’ve been seizure-free for two to three years.

Resources

Dekker, P.A. (2002). Epilepsy: A manual for medical and clinical officers in Africa. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/639.pdf

Donner, E. J. (2006). Choosing an epileptic drug. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Epilepsy/Choosing-an-Anti-Epileptic-Drug.aspx?articleID=7025