Epilepsy Drugs

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 31, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on October 31, 2014

Epilepsy Medications

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

According to the Mayo Clinic, half of 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.

The two main classifications of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are 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 to control absence seizures. Side effects include drowsiness and fatigue, headaches, hiccups, and nausea. It can also cause rash and or reduction of blood cell production in 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 occasionally 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, and memory problems. In some cases, it can cause an increase in seizures.
  • felbamate (Felbatol): This drug can be effective for a wide range of seizures. Serious side effects like failure of the liver or bone marrow have been associated with this drug.
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal): This is 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): This is another longtime anticonvulsant that’s 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): This 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.
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