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Epilepsy Drugs

There are a large number of medications available for the treatment of seizures. Some work on most seizure types, some on only a few. There are also a variety of side effects to be contended with depending on which drug or drugs are being administered. They can include tremors, rashes, weight gain and drowsiness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “At least half of all people newly diagnosed with epilepsy will become seizure-free with their first medication.” Your doctor will be able to help you make a decision about which medications are right for your case.

There are two main classifications of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs): narrow-spectrum AEDs and broad-spectrum AEDs.

Narrow-spectrum AEDs work on specific types of seizures, while broad-spectrum AEDs work on multiple types of seizures and other conditions.

Narrow-spectrum AEDs:

  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol): This drug tends to be more effective with partial and tonic clonic seizures. Side effects include fatigue, double vision, loss of coordination and possibly an effect on the body’s calcium and vitamin D metabolism. It can also, in rare cases, cause a decrease in infection fighting cells in the blood.
  • Ethosuxemide (Zarontin): This drug only works against absence seizures. Side effects include drowsiness and fatigue, headaches, hiccups and nausea. It can also cause rash and or reduction blood cells production from the bones.
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin): This drug can be effective against partial and secondary generalized seizures. Side effects are usually few and mild with Gabapentin. They include sleepiness and fatigue, dizziness, and lack of coordination.
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal): One of the first drugs found to be effective in fighting seizures and still occasioanlly used. It is effective against many types of seizures. The drawbacks of phenobarbital include fatigue, rash, drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness, lack of coordination and rashes. Other potential side effects include behavioral changes, loss of focus and concentration. Long-term use can also increase the risk of osteoporosis and anemia.
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin): This is another drug that has been used to treat epilepsy for some time. Unlike Phenobarbital, Phenytoin tends to be more effective with partial and tonic clonic seizures than with other types. Side effects can include dizziness, loss of coordination, slurring speech, tremors, loss of concentration and jerking of the eyes. Some of the more pronounced side effects include facial hair growth in women, increased growth of the gums and acne.
  • Tiagabine Hydrochloride (Gabitril): This drug is effective against partial seizures. This drug can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness and tremors.

Broad-spectrum AEDs:

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin): This drug is effective against a wide spectrum of seizure types. The major problem with this drug is tolerance. The body can get used to the medication and it stops working. It can also cause sleepiness, a loss of coordination, swelling in the legs, memory problems and, in some cases, can cause an increase in seizures.
  • Felbamate (Felbatol): This drug fights a wide range of seizures. Serious side effects—failure of the liver and/or bone marrow—have been associated with this drug.
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal): A newer drug that is effective against most seizures. This drug can cause a serious rash, headache, dizziness, clumsy movements, and double vision.
  • Primidone (Mysoline): Another longtime anticonvulsant that is effective against a wide range of seizures. This drug has side effects similar to those of Phenobarbital and is less often used today.
  • Topiramate (Topamax): Can be used in conjunction with other drugs, and is effective against a range of seizure types. This drug can cause weight loss and cause problems with memory and focus. In some cases, people using this drug develop kidney stones.
  • Valproate Sodium or Valproic Acid (Depakote): This drug is effective against most seizure types. Stomach problems, weight gain, tremors nausea, and hair loss are all side effects that can occur with this drug. It can also cause problems with the pancreas and the liver.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Jul 20, 2011
Medically reviewed : Jennifer Monti, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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