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Epilepsy Drugs to Treat Seizures

For 70% of patients with epilepsy, drugs can control seizures. However, they can't cure epilepsy, and most people will need to continue taking medications.

An accurate diagnosis of the type of epilepsy (not just the type of seizure, because most seizure types occur in different types of epilepsy) a person has is very important in choosing the best treatment. The type of medication prescribed will also depend on several factors specific to each patient, such as which side effects can be tolerated, other illnesses he or she may have, and which delivery method is acceptable.

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Below is a list of some of the most common brand-name drugs currently used to treat epilepsy. Your doctor may prefer that you take the brand name of anticonvulsant and not the generic substitution. Talk with your doctor about this important issue.   

Tegretol or Carbatrol (carbamazepine)

  • First choice for partial, generalized tonic-clonic and mixed seizures
  • Common adverse effects include fatigue, vision changes, nausea, dizziness, rash.

Zarontin (ethosuximide)

  • Used to treat absence seizures
  • Adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

Felbatol (felbamate)

  • Treats partial and some generalized seizures; is used rarely and only when no other medications have been effective.
  • Side effects include decreased appetite, weight loss, inability to sleep, headache, and depression. Although rare, the drug may cause bone marrow or liver failure. Therefore, the use of the drug is limited and patients taking it must have blood cell counts and liver tests regularly during therapy.

Gabitril (tiagabine)

  • Used with other epilepsy drugs to treat partial and some generalized seizures
  • Common side effects include dizziness, fatigue, weakness, irritability, anxiety, and confusion.

Keppra (levetiracetam)

  • Primary therapy for generalized seizures; it is combined with other epilepsy drugs to treat partial seizures.
  • Side effects include tiredness, weakness, and behavioral changes.

Lamictal (lamotrigine)

  • Treats partial and some generalized seizures
  • Has few side effects, but rarely people report dizziness, insomnia, or rash.

Lyrica (pregabalin)

  • Used to treat partial seizures, but is used more often to treat neuropathic pain.
  • Side effects include dizziness, sleepiness (somnolence), dry mouth, peripheral edema, blurred vision, weight gain, and difficulty with concentration/attention.

Neurontin (Gabapentin)

  • Used with other epilepsy drugs to treat partial and some generalized seizures
  • Few lasting side effects; during the first weeks of treatment you may experience tiredness and dizziness.

Dilantin (Phenytoin)

  • Controls partial seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures; also can be given by vein (intravenously) in the hospital to rapidly control active seizures, although if the drug is being delivered by IV, Cerebyx (fosphenytoin) is usually used.
  • Side effects include dizziness, fatigue, slurred speech, acne, rash, and increased hair (hirsutism). Over the long term, the drug can cause bone thinning.

Topamax (Toprimate)

  • Used with other drugs to treat partial or generalized tonic-clonic seizures
  • Side effects include sleepiness, dizziness, speech problems, nervousness, memory problems, visions problems, weight loss.

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