Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes repeated episodes of unprovoked seizures. There is no cure for epilepsy, but medications may help keep symptoms under control. Epilepsy is almost always treated first with medication.
Choosing the right one, however, can be challenging. There are at least 20 different drugs available to prevent seizures. Some have been around for decades. Many others have only been developed recently, and each drug comes with its own benefits and risks. Also, side effects and dosing schedules vary from drug to drug.
Fifty percent of all patients with newly diagnosed epilepsy will become seizure-free with the first epilepsy drug they try. For the rest, it's try, try again: switching epilepsy medications, adjusting to side effects, and waiting to make sure the new drug works. Others find their seizures are controlled, but they can't tolerate the medication's side effects and need to switch drugs.
Before you ask your doctor if your medication should be switched, make sure you are taking your current medication...
The ultimate goal of treatment is to establish control and be free from seizures. But sometimes, even after control has been established, people may still have a seizure, often referred to as a breakthrough seizure.
To help determine which medication you should try first, your doctor will carefully review your medical history and lifestyle. It's important to remember that epilepsy treatment is tailored to the individual. What works for you may not work for someone else. And some people may need to take more than one medication.
What Are Epilepsy Medications?
Your doctor or nurse may refer to epilepsy medications as antiepileptic drugs or AEDs. Other names used are anticonvulsants or antiseizure drugs. Sometimes the drugs are just called seizure drugs. These medications help suppress the faulty signaling in the brain that leads to seizures. You must take epilepsy medication every day as directed, even when you aren't having symptoms. Some people need to take epilepsy medication for life.
The goals of using medications to treat epilepsy include:
Having no or few seizures
Having no or few side effects
Using only one epilepsy medication, called monotherapy
Choosing the Right Epilepsy Medication
Which epilepsy medication is best for you depends on many factors, including:
Type of epilepsy. There are different forms of epilepsy, and each may cause a different type of seizure. It's very important that your doctor determine what type of epilepsy you have. Not all medications work on all types of seizures. And, sometimes, an epilepsy medication can make seizures worse. If your doctor can't determine what type of seizures you have, you may be prescribed what's known as a "broad-spectrum" epilepsy medication. Broad-spectrum means it can work on a wide range of seizures.