Drugs for Epilepsy

There are numerous drugs for epilepsy which are used to treat various forms of seizures and epilepsy. In general, medications are the primary treatment option for treating newly diagnosed epilepsy. Most of these medications are taken every day to prevent seizures and can significantly reduce seizure frequency or even eliminate seizures completely. The majority of patients with seizures will respond favorably to medications. Only a small subset will fail medical treatment and some of these will be considered for surgical treatment for epilepsy.

Although most drugs for epilepsy are prescribed to be taken on a continuous basis to prevent seizures, some fast acting medications are used to stop a seizure once it starts. While these medications are occasionally prescribed for patients, or their family members or caretakers, to self-administer at home in the event of a seizure, most are used in the hospital to cut a seizure short.

How Do Drugs for Epilepsy Work?

There are many classes of drugs used to prevent or stop seizures and they have various basic mechanisms of action. However, the majority of anti-seizure medications are inhibitory to the cells of the brain. Some reduce the propagation of action potentials, the electrical signals in the brain that carry information from one place to another. Others inhibit the activation of nerve cells (called neurons) by inhibiting or enhancing certain neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that allow one neuron to "talk" to the next. By these mechanisms, the spread of brain activity is limited and helps to prevent the uncontrolled, abnormal activity that is seen in seizures.

While some of these medications are primarily anti-seizure drugs, some are used for other clinical uses as well. For example, some sedative drugs, such as benzodiazepines (the class of drugs that include Valium), are also used to treat seizures.

Which Drugs Are Used For Epilepsy?

There are many classes of drugs that are used in epilepsy treatment. Some of these drugs are used alone while some are generally used in combination with other anti-seizure medications. Some are effective only against some types of seizures. For example, ethosuximide is generally only effective for absence seizures.

Below is a list of some commonly used anti-epileptics. Where applicable both the generic name of the drug is listed along with the trade name. They are listed in alphabetical order.

  • Barbiturates: A class of sedative-hypnotic drugs similar in action to Benzodiazepines.
    • Phenobarbital
  • Benzodiazepines: A class of sedative-hypnotic drugs similar in action to Barbiturates.
    • Ativan (Lorazepam)
    • Clonazepam
    • Versed (Midazolam)
  • Depakene (Valproic acid) or Depakote (Valproate)
  • Dilantin (Phenytoin)
  • Ethosuximide
  • Felbatol (Felbamate)
  • Gabitril (Tiagabine)
  • Keppra (Levetiracetam)
  • Lamictal (Lamotrigine)
  • Lyrica (Pregabalin)
  • Neurontin (Gabapentin)
  • Primidone
  • Sabril (Vigabatrin)
  • Tegretol (Carbemazepine)
  • Topamax (Topiramate)
  • Trileptal (oxcarbazepine)
  • Zonegran (Zonisamide)

Other Drugs Used for Epilepsy: While most forms of epilepsy are treated with one or more of the drugs listed above, there are some exceptions. In some specific types other drugs are used. For example, for infantile spasms, a specific type of seizure in young children both prednisone and ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) are sometimes effective.

If you are looking for specific recommendations about drugs for epilepsy you should consult your own treating physician.

What Side Effects are Associated with Drugs for Epilepsy?

All medications have some side effects which can potentially be associated with them. Each anti-seizure medication has different possible side effects. However, some generalizations can be made. Because most of the drugs listed above decrease seizures by inhibiting some nervous system activity, a common side effect is drowsiness or confusion. Most anti-epileptics can cause some sleepiness, particularly at high doses. This is most severe in those medications which are sedatives, such as the barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Additionally, many of the medications, such as Dilantin and Tegretol, can cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. While the most common reaction is a skin rash, more severe reactions can occur in some patients.

If you are concerned about anti-seizure medication side effects, consult your own treating physicians about the potential side effects of the drugs you are prescribed and report any effects you experience. Generally, if a patient does not tolerate a given drug due to side effects or allergies the drug will be discontinued and switched to a drug which is better tolerated but still effective in preventing seizures.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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