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Epilepsy Treatments: Find the Right Medication

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Choosing the Right Epilepsy Medication continued...

Other medicines you take. Some drugs can affect how an epilepsy medication works in your body and vice versa. Birth control pills, for instance, may not work as well if you take certain epilepsy medications. This is more likely with older seizure drugs such as phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenobarbital, and primidone (Mysoline). Some newer epilepsy medications, though, including topiramate (Topamax), may also reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills. Always let your doctor know about all the medicines you take. That includes drugs, herbs, and supplements that you buy without a prescription.

What's most convenient for you. Most epilepsy medications are taken by mouth. Depending on the type of drug, you may have to take it several times a day. Talk to your doctor about when you will need to take the medication, and how this affects your lifestyle. In rare cases, epilepsy medicine may be given by injection. This is most often done when seizures need to be immediately controlled.

Side effects. Epilepsy medications can cause a variety of side effects, including fatigue, slowed or "foggy" thinking, unsteadiness, and nausea. Older adults are often more sensitive to these side effects. Which side effects you can tolerate play a role in which drug your doctor prescribes. Your doctor will try to find a medicine that eliminates your seizures and has no side effects. However, this may not always be possible.

Cost. Cost may be a deciding factor when it comes to which epilepsy medication you choose. Older epilepsy drugs are often much less expensive than newer ones. Some brands are available in a cheaper, generic form.

The Epilepsy Foundation web site offers a complete list of available epilepsy medications and information about when the medicine is used, how it is taken, and the possible side effects.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Together, you and your doctor will decide which epilepsy medication might be best for you. Here are some questions to ask your doctor about epilepsy medication:

  • How and when do I take this medicine?
  • What side effects might it have?
  • Will this medicine cause any long-term health risks?
  • Can I safely take this drug with the other medications I take?
  • I take birth control pills. Will this drug affect how they work?
  • Can I take this drug if I get pregnant?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • How long do I have to wait to drive if you change my medication?
  • Is there a generic I could take?

Remember, it is important to take your epilepsy medication exactly as directed. You need a consistent level of medicine in your blood to prevent seizures. If you miss a dose, stop taking the medication, or even change your medication, breakthrough seizures can occur. You will need regular blood tests to monitor the level of the epilepsy medicine in your bloodstream.

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