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Medicines to prevent epileptic seizures are called antiepileptics. The goal is to find an effective antiepileptic medicine that causes the fewest side effects.
Taking only one antiepileptic medicine prevents seizures in up to 7 out of 10 people who have partial seizures. About 8 out of 10 people have complete seizure control when they take more than one antiepileptic medicine.2 Although many people experience side effects, medicine is still the best way to prevent epileptic seizures. The benefits of treatment with medicine usually outweigh the drawbacks.
There are many antiepileptic medicines (called AEDs, anticonvulsants, or antiseizure medicines). But they do not all treat the same types of seizures. The first step your doctor takes in choosing a medicine to treat your seizures is to identify the types of seizures you have.
It may take time and careful, controlled adjustments by you and your doctor to find the combination, schedule, and dosing of medicine to best manage your epilepsy. The goal is to prevent seizures while causing as few side effects as possible. After you and your doctor figure out the medicine program that works best for you, make sure to follow your program exactly as prescribed.
Using a single antiepileptic medicine is often better than using more than one medicine. Single medicine use causes fewer side effects and does not carry the risk of interacting with other medicines. The chances of missing a dose or taking it at the wrong time are also lower with just one medicine.
When treatment with one medicine doesn't help you enough, your doctor may suggest a second medicine to help improve seizure control. Also, if you have several types of seizures, you may need to take more than one medicine.
Many medicines are used to treat epilepsy. Some are used alone, and some are used only along with other medicines. Your medicine options depend in part on what types of seizures you have.
Medicines that may be used first to treat epileptic seizures include:
If epileptic seizures continue even though you are being treated, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medicines:
See information on:
Many of the first-line medicines control the same types of seizures equally well. Most antiepileptic medicines can cause nausea, dizziness, and sleepiness when you first start taking them. But these effects usually go away after your body adjusts to the medicine. Liver and blood problems are common to many of them. You may need to have regular blood tests to watch for these side effects as long as you are taking the medicines.
Aside from these common problems, though, the medicines have different side effects, health risks, and costs. A medicine that works for someone else may not work for you.
When the more commonly used medicines fail to control seizures or cannot be used for some other reason, you may still have other medicine options.
What to think about
All antiepileptic medicines have some unpleasant side effects. Ideally, medicine works to prevent seizures without causing intolerable side effects.
When choosing between medicines that treat the same type of seizure, you and your doctor will think about things such as:
Building a medicine routine that works can be hard. Finding the correct dosage of a medicine may take months. Some people may have skin rashes, nausea, loss of coordination, and other short-term problems when they first start taking medicine for epilepsy. When the first medicine you try does not prevent seizures or you cannot tolerate its side effects, the doctor may have to start the process all over again with a different medicine. The chances of medicine therapy failure increase as the number of medicines tried increases.
If you or your child has epilepsy and needs to begin or change a medicine routine, talk to your doctor about what to expect from treatment with the medicine. You may or may not have a choice between medicines, depending on the types of seizures you or your child has and other factors. Thinking about and asking questions about antiepileptic medicines will help you prepare for the treatment.
Pregnancy raises special concerns for women who take antiepileptic medicines. Before you become pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor about how to handle your treatment.
You may think about stopping medicines if you have not had a seizure in several years. About 6 to 7 out of 10 people in this situation are able to stop taking antiepileptic medicines without having another seizure again for several years.3 But do not stop taking your medicine without first talking with your doctor.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning on antiepileptic medicines and the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, people who take antiepileptic medicine should be watched closely for warning signs of suicide. People who take antiepileptic medicine and who are worried about this side effect should talk to a doctor. For more information, see warning signs of suicide in adults and warning signs of suicide in children and teens.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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