5 Questions to ask your doctor about your epilepsy medication

Medication for epilepsy can control seizures in about 7 out of every 10 patients. It’s important for your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis of the type of epilepsy, so you can get the best treatment combination. Remember: these medications don’t cure epilepsy: they only keep you from getting epileptic attacks. Keep taking them, even when you feel fine.

1. How does my doctor decide on my medication?

Your medication can be given in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids or syrups. The choice of medication depends on:

  • Your age
  • Type of epilepsy
  • How bad and frequent your seizures are
  • The specific medication side effects
  • Your medical history
  • How healthy you are
  • Other medications you’re taking
  • Whether you are planning to get pregnant

Your doctor will usually start you on a low dose, of a single medication, then slowly increase the dose. The aim of the treatment is to balance two things: we need to get the dose high enough to control seizures, but if the treatment is too strong, you can get side-effects.

It’s a balancing-act

If the first medication given doesn’t work, your doctor may start you on different one, while slowly decreasing the dose of the first. You will usually be started on a different drug, however some people need a combination of drugs.

2. What are the side-effects?

Different medications have different side-effects. People don’t respond the same way to drugs, and how your body reacts, will determine which drugs your doctor chooses for you.

Some of the common side-effects of anti-epileptic drugs are:

  • Feeling “drunk in the head”.
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Tremor
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Hair loss
  • Unwanted hair growth

Some rare side effects can include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Low blood counts
  • Liver problems
  • Swelling of gums
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
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3. How long will I need to be on epilepsy medication?

This is a complex decision and depends on a variety of factors.

  • In some cases, epilepsy medication may be gradually stopped if there have been no seizures for more than 2 years.
  • Some epileptics may need to be on lifelong medication, but this is not always the case.
  • Some patients have epileptic seizures at one stage in their life, which may become less frequent or even disappear as they get older.

This is more common if seizures first started in childhood or early adulthood.

  • Epilepsy medication should never be stopped suddenly without the advice of a doctor – because this lead to another seizure.

4. Is it okay for me to switch to cheaper, generic medication?

  • Swapping between different forms of epilepsy medication can affect seizure control or lead to side effects.
  • As a guideline; once your seizures are controlled on specific epilepsy medication, it’s best to stay on that specific drug(s) all the time : whether it’s generic or branded.

5. Are there things that affect if my medication works?

  • alcohol can affect how well epilepsy medication/s work and can also trigger seizures in some people.
  • do not use any over-the-counter medication or homeopathic/complementary medication without first talking with your doctor: they could affect how well your medication works.
  • some epilepsy medication can affect how well your oral contraceptives work. Chat to your doctor about other contraception options.
  • Some of epilepsy medication can harm your unborn baby if your pregnant.. This always has to be weighed up against the risk of a seizure during a pregnancy which may also affect the developing baby or the safety of the mother. Make sure your doctor knows if you are epileptic, and planning to get pregnant.