Of people diagnosed with epilepsy, 60%-70% will gain seizure control with epilepsy medications. Others may continue to have seizures, but less frequently. When seizures continue to recur even with medication other treatment options such as surgery, stimulation of the vagus nerve, or dietary therapy may be considered. In the hope of seizure control, complementary therapies are often explored. These should be thoroughly researched and discussed with your treating doctor.
Treatment for epilepsy is usually with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Many epilepsy syndromes respond well to a specific drug or to a combination of drugs. Drugs do not cure epilepsy but most seizures can be prevented by taking medication regularly one or more times a day. Optimally, the doctor and the patient will jointly make the decision about medication.
- type of seizure
- likely risk of having other seizures
- age of the person
- gender of the person
- general health of the person
- opinion of the person
For people at-risk of recurring seizures, more than 60% are likely to achieve complete seizure control with medication within a year. Commencing medication does not always mean that it must be taken for life. Regular medical reviews are recommended and many people need medication for a limited time, usually a few years. Do not suddenly stop taking medication as this can provoke seizures and possibly a medical emergency. Withdrawing from medication should always be carried out under medical supervision. The treating doctor should guide any changes to dose.
Side effects & interactions
Seizure medication can interact with other medications including the contraceptive pill and some common over-the-counter treatments including herbal remedies. It’s important for people to check for this when a doctor, pharmacist or other medical practitioner, suggests new medications. Any side effects that are thought to be a result of the medication should be discussed with your doctor or epilepsy counsellor. Sometimes the medication can be carefully switched to avoid unwanted side effects. For many people, medication makes it possible to live active lives free of seizures. Others may continue to have seizures, but less frequently.
Managing your medication
Some people are particularly sensitive to increased seizures when they miss a dose of their antiepileptic medication. The longer the break between doses, the lower your blood levels will go and the greater your chance of having a seizure. If you take your medication erratically or you suddenly stop taking all medication, you may trigger a severe and prolonged seizure or a cluster of seizures that will require hospitalisation.
Remembering to take medication regularly can be challenging. Many people with epilepsy experience difficulty with their short-term memory. Using a dosette box can help. It may also be helpful to carry a daily dose of your medication with you in case you are not at home in time to take the next dose.
You can find further tips and information about medications in the factsheet below.
N.B. The “Treatment for Epilepsy” fact sheet was written by Epilepsy Australia and, as an affiliate of this organisation, Epilepsy Queensland has permission to print this information.