Epilepsy causes your brain to send abnormal signals. This activity can lead to seizures. Seizures can occur for a number of reasons, such as injury or sickness. Epilepsy is a condition that causes recurrent seizures. There are several types of epileptic seizures. Many of them can be treated with anti-seizure medications.
Drugs used to treat seizures are called antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are more than 20 prescription AEDs available. Your options depend on your age, your lifestyle, the type of seizures you have, and how often you have seizures. If you’re a woman, they also depend on your chance of pregnancy.
There are two types of seizure drugs: narrow-spectrum AEDs and broad-spectrum AEDs. Some people may need to take more than one medication to prevent seizures.
Narrow-spectrum AEDs are designed for specific types of seizures. These drugs are used if your seizures occur in a specific part of your brain on a regular basis. Here are narrow-spectrum AEDs, listed alphabetically:
Carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Tegretol, Epitol, Equetro)
Carbamazepine is used to treat seizures that occur in the temporal lobe. This drug may also help treat secondary, partial, and refractory seizures. It interacts with many other drugs. Make sure you tell your doctor about all medications you’re taking.
Clobazam helps prevent absence, secondary, and partial seizures. It belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These drugs are often used for sedation, sleep, and anxiety. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, this medication may be used in children as young as 2 years old. In rare cases, this drug may cause a serious skin reaction.
Diazepam (Valium, Diastat)
Diazepam is used to treat cluster and prolonged seizures. This drug is also a benzodiazepine.
Divalproex (Depakote) is used to treat absence, partial, complex partial, and multiple seizures. It increases availability of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. That means it slows nerve circuits down. This effect helps control seizures.
Eslicarbazepine acetate (Aptiom)
This drug is used to treat partial-onset seizures. It’s thought to work by blocking sodium channels. Doing this slows the nerve firing sequence in seizures.
Ethosuximide is used to treat all forms of absence seizures. These include atypical, childhood, and juvenile absence seizures.
Gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise)
Gabapentin is used to treat partial seizures. This drug’s side effects may be milder than the side effects of other AEDs. Common side effects include dizziness and fatigue.
This medication is used for partial seizures. It comes as an oral tablet, oral solution, and intravenous (IV) injection. The injection is only given by a healthcare provider.
This drug is used for absence seizures. It’s given when other treatments don’t work for your seizures. This drug slows down the motor cortex. This slows down your movements. It also increases the threshold for seizures. That means the drug makes it more difficult for your brain to start a seizure.
Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal, Oxtellar XR)
Oxcarbazepine is used to treat all types of focal seizures. It can be used in adults and children 2 years and older.
Perampanel (Fycompa) is used to treat complex, simple, and refractory seizures. It isn’t full understood how this drug works. It may affect glutamate receptors in your brain. This drug can cause life-threatening psychiatric or behavioral side effects. Talk to your doctor to learn more.
This drug is one of the first and oldest seizure drugs. It’s still used to treat epilepsy. It can treat generalized, partial, and tonic-clonic seizures. Phenobarbital is a long-acting sedative drug with anticonvulsant action. Sedative drugs may make you feel very drowsy.
Phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek, and others)
Phenytoin is another older, commonly used drug. It stabilizes neuronal membranes. This action calms nerve firings in your brain. It’s used to treat complex, simple, and refractory seizures.
Pregabalin (Lyrica) is used as additional treatment for partial-onset seizures. This means you’ll take it with other seizure medications.
This medication is used as additional treatment for seizures due to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. However, this drug may cause changes in your heart rhythm. It can also interact with many drugs. For these reasons, this medication is not used often.
Tiagabine hydrochloride (Gabitril)
This drug is used as an additional treatment for complex and simple partial seizures.
This drug is used as additional treatment for complex partial seizures. Due to serious side effects, the use of this medication is restricted. Only doctors and pharmacies that are registered with a special program can prescribe and dispense this drug. Serious side effects include permanent vision loss.
If you have more than one type of seizure, a broad-spectrum AED may be your best choice of treatment. These drugs are designed to prevent seizures in more than one part of the brain. Recall that narrow-spectrum AEDs only work in one specific part of the brain. These broad-spectrum AEDs are listed alphabetically by their generic names.
Clonazepam is a long-acting benzodiazepine. It’s used to treat many types of seizures. These include myoclonic, akinetic, and absence seizures.
Clorazepate is a benzodiazepine. It’s used as an additional treatment for partial seizures.
This AED is used as an additional treatment. It’s used for generalized, refractory, and complex partial seizures. It’s not fully understood how it works. It activates potassium channels. This effect stabilizes your neuron firing.
This drug may affect the retina of your eye and harm your vision. Due to this effect, this drug is used only after you don’t respond to other medications. If your doctor gives you this drug, you’ll need eye exams every six months. If this drug doesn’t work for you at the maximum dosage, your doctor will stop your treatment with it. This is to prevent eye issues.
Felbamate is used to treat nearly all types of seizures in people who don’t respond to other treatment. It can be used as a single therapy or in combination with other drugs. It’s used when other drugs have failed. Serious side effects include anemia and liver failure.
Lamotrigine (Lamictal) may treat a wide range of epileptic seizures. People who take this drug must watch for a rare and serious skin condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Symptoms can include shedding of your skin.
Levetiracetam (Keppra, Spritam)
Levetiracetam is a first-line treatment for generalized, partial, atypical, absence, and other types of seizures. According to Pharmacopoeia of Prophylactic Antiepileptic Drugs, this drug can treat focal, generalized, idiopathic, or symptomatic epilepsy in people of all ages. This drug may also cause fewer side effects than other drugs used for epilepsy.
Lorazepam (Ativan) is used to treat status epilepticus (prolonged, critical seizure). It’s a type of benzodiazepine.
Primidone is used to treat myoclonic, tonic-clonic, and focal seizures. It’s also used to treat juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.
Topiramate (Topamax, Qudexy XR, Trokendi XR)
Topiramate is used as a single or combination treatment. It’s used to treat all types of seizures in adults and children.
Valproic acid (Depacon, Depakene, Depakote, Stavzor)
Valproic acid is a common broad-spectrum AED. It’s approved to treat most seizures. It can be used on its own or in a combination treatment. Valproic acid increases the availability of GABA. More GABA helps calm random nerve firings in seizures.
Zonisamide (Zonegran) is used to treat partial seizures and other types of epilepsy. However, it may cause serious side effects. These include cognitive problems, weight loss, and kidney stones.
Talk to your doctor
Before taking an AED, talk to your doctor about what side effects it can cause. Some AEDs may make seizures worse in some people. Use this article as a jumping point to ask your doctor for more information. Working with your doctor can help you both choose the seizure drug that’s best for you.