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Epilepsy - Medications

Medicine choices continued...

See information on:

actionset.gif Epilepsy: Taking Your Medicines Properly.

Many of the first-line medicines control the same types of seizures equally well. Most antiepileptic medicines can cause nausea, dizziness, and sleepiness when you first start taking them. But these effects usually go away after your body adjusts to the medicine. Liver and blood problems are common to many of them. You may need to have regular blood tests to watch for these side effects as long as you are taking the medicines.

Aside from these common problems, though, the medicines have different side effects, health risks, and costs. A medicine that works for someone else may not work for you.

When the more commonly used medicines fail to control seizures or cannot be used for some other reason, you may still have other medicine options.

  • Many new medicines are being developed and tested in clinical trials but are not in regular use yet. One of these might be an option. People with epilepsy who have not responded to standard therapy sometimes choose to take part in these trials. To learn more about clinical trials, talk to your doctor or visit the National Institutes of Health clinical trials website at
  • There are also a few medicines that are only used for certain rare or severe forms of epilepsy in children. Children with infantile spasms, for instance, may respond to a corticosteroid, vigabatrin, or adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

What to think about

All antiepileptic medicines have some unpleasant side effects. Ideally, medicine works to prevent seizures without causing intolerable side effects.

When choosing between medicines that treat the same type of seizure, you and your doctor will think about things such as:

  • How well the medicine works. How well a medicine works usually influences your willingness to take it.
  • Possible side effects of each medicine.
  • Long-term health risks of each medicine.
  • How often each medicine has to be taken.
  • Your age. Side effects may not affect children and adults in the same way. Medicines that can affect memory and thought processes may have a more severe impact on older adults.
  • Your medical history and other health concerns that might affect the use of a medicine. For instance, many antiepileptic medicines can cause rare liver and blood problems and may be very risky if you already have liver disease or a blood disorder.
  • The doctor's own experience in treating people with each medicine.
  • The cost of each medicine.

Building a medicine routine that works can be hard. Finding the correct dosage of a medicine may take months. Some people may have skin rashes, nausea, loss of coordination, and other short-term problems when they first start taking medicine for epilepsy. When the first medicine you try does not prevent seizures or you cannot tolerate its side effects, the doctor may have to start the process all over again with a different medicine. The chances of medicine therapy failure increase as the number of medicines tried increases.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 26, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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