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Drugs for Children With Epilepsy

There is a wide number of drugs available for treating epilepsy in children, and advances in the past years have made a difference. In fact, nine new medications have become available in the last decade.

But that doesn't mean the newest drug for epilepsy is the best. New drugs have helped, but there's no single miracle cure responsible for the improvements in treating epilepsy. Instead, doctors are getting better at fine-tuning treatment for each child using new and older drugs. There isn't one right medicine.

Only some of the 20 or so medications used to treat seizures have been approved by the FDA for use in children. Legally, your doctor may prescribe any of the drugs. Still, it's important to be cautious in trying new adult epilepsy drugs in children until there's good evidence that they are safe in younger, small bodies. Discuss your child's options carefully with the doctor.

Types of Epilepsy Drugs

Common drugs for partial or tonic-clonic seizures include Tegretol or Carbatrol (carbamazepine), Dilantin (phenytoin), and Depakote (divalproex sodium). Side effects can include stomach problems or tiredness, and in the case of Dilantin, excess hair growth. For absence seizures, medications include Depakote or Depakene and Zarontin (ethosuximide).

Some of the other drugs used to treat various forms of epilepsy are Neurontin (gabapentin), Topamax (topiramate), Trileptal (oxcarbazepine), Gabitril (tiagabine hydrochloride), Keppra (levetiracetam), Lamictal (lamotrigine), Zonegran (zonisamide), Oxteller XR (oxcarbazepine), and Felbatol (felbamate). Doctors and parents met the arrival of Felbatol on the market several years ago with great excitement. It later turned out that the drug's side effects were more common and more dangerous than previously thought, but it is still a useful medicine for some people.

Some of the anti-seizure medications -- like Depakote -- have been approved as monotherapy for children. This means that it could be the only epilepsy drug your child would take. Many children prefer monotherapy because they only have to remember to take one pill.

The side effects for these epilepsy medicines vary, but generally they include:

  • Grogginess
  • Double vision
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Unsteadiness on the feet
  • Rash

Less common side effects of epilepsy drugs include depression, irritability, and hyperactivity. Many epilepsy drugs cause specific side effects, and you should ask your child's doctor about them. Any side effects should be checked out with a doctor. This is especially true of rashes, which could indicate a possibly dangerous allergic reaction to the drug.

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