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Treating Epilepsy: Medications

If you’ve been diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor will create a treatment plan for you. Medications called antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are the primary treatment for epilepsy. These medications greatly reduce or prevent seizures in most people who take them. For some people, other treatment options may be available.

Your Medication Plan

Young man sitting at breakfast table with bowl of cereal and glass of water. He is holding a bottle of pills and looking at his watch.Your doctor will work with you to create the best medication plan for you.

  • Type of medication: There are many types of AEDs. The first type you try will likely help you. If not, your doctor may suggest another type, or a combination of AEDs.

  • Dosage: You will probably be started at a low dosage. The dosage will be slowly increased until your seizures are better controlled or a target dosage is reached.

  • Rescue medications: Your treatment plan may include special medications to stop seizures. They can be given to you during a seizure only by someone who has been specially instructed by a doctor.

After you start taking medications, you may have follow-up testing. These tests measure the level of medication in your blood. Eventually, you’ll need to have these tests about once a year.

When Taking Epilepsy Medications

DO take your medications exactly as directed.

DO keep a current list of all medications you’re taking and show it to your doctor.

DO know that epilepsy medications can interfere with how birth control pills work.

DO store pills in a cool, dry place (not in the bathroom).

DON’T stop taking your medications, skip a dose, or change your medication amount without your doctor’s approval.

DON’T change brands of medication, or even forms of one brand (from tablet to liquid, for instance), without your doctor’s approval.

DON’T take herbal supplements or antacids without talking to your doctor first. And ask your pharmacist about taking over-the-counter medications.

Possible Side Effects of Epilepsy Medications

Epilepsy medications often have effects that are not intended (side effects). Most of these effects go away after a few weeks. The most common side effects of epilepsy medications include:

  • Dizziness

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Tiredness

  • Stomach upset

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Depression

  • Allergic reaction (such as a rash or fever)

Other Treatments for Epilepsy

Brain surgery: Brain surgery may sound scary. But it can greatly reduce or eliminate seizures without causing loss of function. It impacts small parts of the brain that cause seizures, leaving the rest of the brain unharmed. In most cases, only people whose seizures start as partial seizures can have the procedure.

Vagus nerve stimulation: With vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), a device is put under the skin in the chest. The device is connected to a nerve in the neck called the vagus nerve. The device sends electrical impulses through the vagus nerve to the brain. The impulses have been shown to help reduce seizures.


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