Medication for Epilepsy
Epilepsy cannot be ‘Cured’ with medication. However, various medicines can control the seizures by stabilising the electrical activity of the brain. The success in controlling seizures by medication varies depending on the type of epilepsy. If there is no underlying cause for your seizures – Idiopathic epilepsy, you have a good chance that medication can fully control your seizures. Seizures caused by a core brain problem may be more difficult to control.
Your physician will take into account various conditions, such as your age, type of epilepsy, other medicines you may be taking, possible side–effects, if you are pregnant, etc while choosing your medication. There are some popular medicines for each type of epilepsy and if one does not suit you, another may be better.
Doctors usually start at the lowest possible dose to control seizures. The dose is usually increased if you have further seizures. Medicines are available as tablets, soluble tablets, capsules, or liquids.
Side–effects of Epilepsy Medications
Most medicines have probable side–effects, not everyone is effected. The listed of side–effects are found in the which comes in the medicine box. You should read this even though it may appear alarming. Many of the side–effects listed, are rare. When you start medication, don’t forget to ask your doctor about any problems that may arise for that particular medicine. Do not stop taking a medicine suddenly, if you notice a side–effect, but consult your doctor for advice. One of the common side–effect is sleepiness but eases or goes once the body gets used to the medicine. Side–effects which are rare, but you still need to be aware of are rashes or bruising whilst taking certain medicines.
In some cases, seizures are not controlled immediately in spite of taking medicine. This could be because the dosage or timing of the medication needs re–assessing. A common cause of seizures is taking medication incorrectly. If you have taken a medicine correctly up to its maximum allowed dose, but it has not worked well, you may be advised to switch to a different medicine. If that does not work alone, taking two medicines together may be advised. It is quite uncommon that seizures are not controlled with two medicines.
Importance of correct medication
It is important to take your medicine as prescribed. Try to get into a daily routine. Forgetting an occasional dose is not a problem for some people, but for others would lead to breakthrough seizures. One of the reasons why seizures recur is due to not taking medication properly.
Duration of Epilepsy Medication
The chance of seizures recurring is higher for some types of epilepsy than others, only your doctor will be able to advise you, so follow his instructions religiously. You may be able to stop medication if your seizures have been well controlled for two or more years. Since there are many different types of epilepsy, some of which are age dependent may not need medication for long, but there are others that will need medication for life. Your life circumstances may influence the decision about stopping medication. If a decision is made to stop medication, it is best done gradually, reducing the dose over a period of several weeks or months. Follow the advice given by a doctor.
How effective is Medication used for Epilepsy?
The success in controlling seizures by medication varies depending on the type of epilepsy. For example, if no underlying cause can be found for your seizures you have a good chance that medication can fully control your seizures. Seizures caused by some underlying brain problems may be more difficult to control.
The following figures are based on studies of people with epilepsy which looked back over a five year period. These figures are based on grouping people with all types of epilepsy together which gives an overall picture.
- About 5 in 10 people with epilepsy will have no seizures at all over a five year period. Many of these people will be taking medication to control seizures. Some will have stopped treatment having had two or more years without a seizure whilst taking medication.
- About 3 in 10 people with epilepsy will have some seizures in this five year period, but far fewer than if they had not taken medication.
- In total, with medication about 8 in 10 people with epilepsy are well controlled with either no, or few, seizures.
- The remaining 2 in 10 people experience seizures, despite medication.
Which Medicine is the most Suitable?
A doctor will take into account various things when choosing a medicine to prescribe. These include: your type of epilepsy, age, other medicines that you take, possible side–effects, pregnancy, etc. There are popular medicines for each type of epilepsy. However, if one medicine does not suit, another may be better.
A low dose is usually started. The aim is to control seizures at the lowest dose possible. If you have further seizures, the dose is usually increased. There is a maximum dose allowed for each medicine. In about 7 in 10 cases, one medicine can control all, or most, seizures. Medicines may come as tablets, soluble tablets, capsules, or liquids to suit all ages.
What if Seizures still occur?
In some seizures are not controlled despite taking one medicine. This may be because the dosage or timing of the medication needs re–assessing. A common reason why seizures continue to occur is because medication is not taken correctly. If in doubt, your doctor or pharmacist can offer advice.
If you have taken a medicine correctly up to its maximum allowed dose, but it has not worked well, you may be advised to try a different medicine. If that does not work alone, taking two medicines together may be advised. However, in about 2 in 10 cases, seizures are not well controlled even with two medicines.
When is Medication Started?
The decision when to start medication may be difficult. A first seizure may not mean that you have ongoing epilepsy. A second seizure may never happen, or occur years after the first. For many people, it is difficult to predict if seizures will recur. Another factor to consider is how severe seizures are. If the first seizure was severe, you may opt to start medication immediately. In contrast, some people have seizures with relatively mild symptoms. Even if the seizures occur quite often, they might not cause much problem, and some people in this situation opt not to take any medication.
The decision to start medication should be made by weighing up all the pros and cons of starting, or not starting, treatment. A popular option is to ‘wait and see’ after a first seizure. If you have a second seizure within a few months, more are likely. Medication is commonly started after a second seizure that occurs within 12 months of the first. However, there are no definite rules and the decision to start medication should be made after a full discussion with your doctor.
What about side–effects?
All medicines have possible side–effects that affect some people. All known possible side–effects are listed in the leaflet which comes in the medicine packet. If you read this it may appear alarming. However, in practice, most people have few or no side–effects, or just minor ones. Many side–effects listed are rare. Each medicine has it’s own set of possible side–effects. Therefore, if you are troubled with a side–effect, a change of medication may resolve the problem.
When you start a medicine, ask your doctor about any problems which may arise for your particular medicine. Two groups of problems may be mentioned.
- Side–effects which are relatively common, but are not usually serious. For example, sleepiness is a common side–effect of some medicines. This tends to be worse when first started. This problem often eases or goes once the body gets used to the medicine. Other minor side–effects may settle down after a few weeks of treatment. If you become unsteady, it may indicate the dose is too high.
- Side–effects which are serious, but rare. Your doctor may advise what to look out for. For example, it is important to report any rashes or bruising whilst taking some types of medicine.
Do not stop taking a medicine suddenly. If you notice a side–effect, ask your doctor for advice.
Taking your Medication Correctly
It is important to take your medicine as prescribed. Try to get into a daily routine. Forgetting an occasional dose is not a problem for some people, but for others would lead to breakthrough seizures. One of the reasons why seizures recur is due to not taking medication properly. A pharmacist is a good source of advice if you have any queries about medication.
Some medicines taken for other conditions may interfere with medication for epilepsy. If you are prescribed or buy another medicine, always remind your doctor or pharmacist that you take medication for epilepsy. Even things such as indigestion medicines may interact with your epilepsy medication, which may increase your chance of having a seizure.
Some epilepsy treatments interfere with the contraceptive pill. You may need a higher dose pill for effective contraception. Your Family Planning doctor will be able to advise you about this.
What about Epilepsy Medication and Pregnancy?
Being pregnant does not usually make epilepsy any better or worse. However, there is a small chance that the unborn child may be affected by some medicines used to treat epilepsy. Before becoming pregnant it is best to seek advice from a doctor, epilepsy nurse, or counsellor. The potential risks can be discussed.
One important point is that you should take extra folic acid before becoming pregnant, and throughout the pregnancy. This may reduce the chance of certain abnormalities occurring.
If you have an unplanned pregnancy, do not stop epilepsy medication which may risk a seizure occurring. See a doctor as soon as possible.
How long do I need to take Medication for?
You may wish to consider stopping medication if you have not had any seizures for two or more years. It is important to discuss this with a doctor. The chance of seizures recurring is higher for some types of epilepsy than others. Overall, if you have not had any seizures for 2–3 years and you then stop medication:
- About 6 in 10 people will remain free of seizures two years after stopping medication. If seizures do not return within two years after stopping medication, the long–term outlook is good. However, there is still a small chance of a recurrence in the future.
- About 4 in 10 people will have a recurrence within two years. There are many different types of epilepsy, some of which are age dependent, but some that will need medication for life. Your epilepsy specialist should be able to offer you more advice about the long–term outlook for your particular type of epilepsy.
Your life circumstances may influence the decision about stopping medication. If a decision is made to stop medication, it is best done gradually, reducing the dose over a period of several weeks or months. Follow the advice given by a doctor.
Are there any other Treatments for Epilepsy?
Surgery to remove a cause of seizures in the brain is an option in a small number of cases. It may be considered when medication fails to prevent seizures. It is only possible for certain causes in certain areas of the brain. Therefore, only a small number of people are suitable for surgery. Also, there is risk involved in brain surgery. However, techniques continue to improve and surgery may become an option for more and more people in the future.
The ketogenic diet, a diet that needs to be supervised by an experienced dietician, is useful for some children and adults with particular types of epilepsy.
Vagal nerve stimulation is another treatment that is occasionally used in some cases. Complementary therapies such as aromatherapy may help with relaxation and relieve stress, but have no proven effect on preventing seizures.
Counseling – Some people with epilepsy become anxious or depressed about their condition. A doctor may be able to arrange counseling with the aim of overcoming such feelings. Genetic counseling may be appropriate if the type of epilepsy is thought to have a hereditary pattern. It may be an option to consider before starting a family.