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Epilepsy Treatments: Keeping Seizures Under Control

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Epilepsy Treatment: Finding the Right Medication

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No seizures and no side effects: that's the new ideal in treating epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. While experts temper that mantra with a dash of realism -- "all medicines have side effects," says Devinsky -- they say many people live with side effects they don't have to.

"After living on the medication for longer than they lived off of it, some people can't remember who they were off medication," says Devinsky. Switching to an epilepsy drug with fewer side effects "has a risk, but can be worth it in quality of life," for people living with sleepiness, fatigue, or confusion caused by their epilepsy drugs, Devinsky adds.

But choosing the right one? The number of options for treating epilepsy can be overwhelming -- even to doctors. To help sort them out, WebMD takes a look at the epilepsy drugs available today.

Newer Epilepsy Drugs: Higher Price, Fewer Side Effects

The perceived drawbacks of older epilepsy drugs spurred a renaissance of development of new epilepsy drugs, launched in the 1990s:

  • Keppra (levetiracetam) is one of the broad-spectrum epilepsy drugs, meaning it is effective in most adults, regardless of the seizure type. Keppra also has established benefits in difficult-to-treat seizures. Side effects include sleepiness, dizziness, and anxiety, although Keppra is usually well-tolerated.
  • Lamictal (lamotrigine) is a broad-spectrum epilepsy drug as well. It's also used to treat bipolar disorder. An extended release form is available. Side effects of Lamictal most often include dizziness, blurred vision, insomnia, or headache. A serious rash requiring medical attention can sometimes occur. 
  • Topamax (topiramate) is a broad-spectrum epilepsy drug. It's also effective in treating migraines. Drowsiness, clumsiness, slowed or difficult speech and concentration, and weight loss are common side effects of Topamax. Kidney stones occur in 1% of people. 
  • Zonegran (zonisamide) is broad-spectrum, also. Drowsiness, clumsiness, nausea, vomiting, and kidney stones (up to 4% of people) are side effects. A serious rash occurs 1%-2% of the time. 
  • Felbatol (felbamate) is only used for severe seizures that are uncontrolled by other treatments. Felbatol can cause a rare but potentially fatal blood disorder called aplastic anemia. The risks of this side effect need to be balanced against the risks of uncontrolled seizures.
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