Epilepsy today is largely treated with medication. Medications to control seizures are called antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). AEDs are intended to reduce or stop seizures, preferably with few side-effects. They do not cure epilepsy, they are to control the seizures.
Finding the right medication for you
Many people get good seizure control with the first medication they try, however some people may need to trial more than one medication before they find the one that works best for them.
The choice of medication depends upon things like the seizure type or syndrome, age, gender, other health conditions, lifestyle, employment and side effects. Your doctor will consider these things before prescribing one for you.
Your doctor will give you instructions on how and when to take the medication and any possible unwanted effects that may occur. The pharmacist should also help with any questions.
However, finding the best epilepsy medication for you can be complicated and your doctor may need to change your medication or dose from time to time to better control your seizures or reduce unwanted side effects.
Take your medication as prescribed. Changing the dose or daily routine may provoke unexpected seizures or side effects. If you are not happy with your medication for some reason, contact your GP or neurologist.
Read the manufacturer’s instructions and information.
When medication is prescribed, ask your doctor:
- What to expect when starting the medication
- What other medicines may interfere with your medication or vice versa
- What side effects should you be concerned about
- What to do if you miss a dose
- How to keep a good supply so you don’t run out
- Any specific instructions about storing the medication
- About drinking alcohol or other drug use
- About considering future pregnancies.
It is common for people to forget to take their medication occasionally, so it is worth discussing with the doctor what to do if this happens.
For good seizure control, it is important with antiepileptic medication to keep stable levels of the drug in the bloodstream. Missing medication may sometimes cause a seizure. If you realise that you have forgotten a dose, speak to your doctor so you know what to do.
See Dr. Dan McLaughlin discussing what to do about missing medications.
Tips that may help if you miss your medication:
- Have a regular routine when taking your medication so you are less likely to forget
- Take the medication with meals or using a tablet dosette box
- Keep good supplies to avoid running out of medication(s) at the last minute, particularly if you are away
- If a dose is missed it generally should be taken as soon as you remember.
- Do not double up on doses. It is important not to take the missed dose if it is close to the next due dose
- Keep a record of doses that have been missed.
All antiepileptic medications have side effects especially when the medication is first started. Many people find a few weeks after starting, the side effects tend to lessen or disappear. If the side-effects are related to the dose being too high, they often diminish with a reduction in dose.
The prescribing doctor needs to be aware, especially if the side-effects persist, are intolerable or are listed as serious.
Sometimes a change of medication will be needed if the effects are an allergic reaction or unacceptable for that person.
Also be aware that:
Some antiepileptic medication can reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill and some contraceptive pills can affect the uptake and absorption of some antiepileptic medication. This may mean that the type or dose of contraception may need to be changed.
Some antiepileptic medication are known to have a higher risk of causing birth defects so women who are planning a pregnancy should plan well ahead and discuss medication choice with the neurologist.
Children can sometimes have the opposite reactions to adults. For instance a medication that makes some adults drowsy may make a child over active.
Stopping the medication
Never stop or change the dose of a medication without speaking to your doctor.
Any withdrawal from antiepileptic medication should be done slowly and under medical supervision. Suddenly stopping these drugs can provoke a seizure or seizures, often more severe than usual.
Monitoring blood levels
The main goal of antiepileptic medication is to have good seizure control with few or no side effects. If this is the case, then blood level monitoring is not usually necessary.
There are some situations where medication blood level monitoring is needed such as when someone is:
- taking phenytoin (Dilantin)
- having more seizures than usual or changes in seizures or seizure control
- taking many medications
- a young child, elderly or disabled
- having what are thought to be unwanted effects
- suffering from another medical condition
If a person is having unwanted side effects from medication or they are feeling unwell, the doctor may suggest other tests to check the levels of medication in the person’s blood, bone marrow and liver.
For more information go to:
- EAA Seizure Smart – Medical management factsheet
- EAA Seizure Smart – Guide to medications factsheet.
Video: Dr. Andrew Bleasel – Seizure Control
Video: Dr. Dan McLaughlin – Missed Medication
Younger children may have difficulty swallowing tablets. For information click here.