Treating Epilepsy: Medications

If you’ve been diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor will create a treatment plan for you. Medications called antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are the primary treatment for epilepsy. These medications greatly reduce or prevent seizures in most people who take them. For some people, other treatment options may be available.

Your Medication Plan

Young man sitting at breakfast table with bowl of cereal and glass of water. He is holding a bottle of pills and looking at his watch.Your health care provider will work with you to create the best medication plan for you.

  • Type of medication: There are many types of AEDs. The first type you try will likely help you. If not, your health care provider may suggest another type, or a combination of AEDs.

  • Dosage: You will probably be started at a low dosage. The dosage will be slowly increased until your seizures are better controlled or a target dosage is reached.

  • Rescue medications: Your treatment plan may include special medications to stop seizures. They can be given to you during a seizure only by someone who has been specially instructed by a health care provider.

After you start taking medications, you may have follow-up testing. These tests measure the level of medication in your blood. Eventually, you’ll need to have these tests periodically, although certain medications do not require lab testing. Additionally, your health care provider may need to check certain blood tests to monitor for side effects while on AEDs.

When Taking Epilepsy Medications

DO take your medications exactly as directed.

DO keep a current list of all medications you’re taking and show it to your health care provider. Make sure you show the list and ask about interactions with any health care provider prescribing new medication for you.

DO know that certain epilepsy medications can interfere with how birth control pills work.

DO store pills in a cool, dry place (not in the bathroom).

DON’T stop taking your medications, skip a dose, or change your medication amount without your health care provider’s approval.

DON’T change brands of medication (usually generic medications are okay), or even forms of one brand (from tablet to liquid, for instance), without your health care provider's approval.

DON’T take herbal supplements or antacids without talking to your health care provider first. Ask your pharmacist about taking over-the-counter medications.

Possible Side Effects of Epilepsy Medications

Epilepsy medications often have effects that are not intended (side effects). Most of these effects go away after a few weeks. The most common side effects of epilepsy medications include:

  • Dizziness

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Tiredness

  • Stomach upset

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Depression

  • Allergic reaction (such as a rash or fever)

Other Treatments for Epilepsy

Brain surgery: Brain surgery may sound scary, but it may be an option if you are still having seizures while on medication. It can greatly reduce or eliminate seizures, without causing loss of function. It impacts small parts of your brain that cause seizures, leaving the rest of your brain unharmed. In most cases, only people whose seizures start as partial seizures can have the procedure.

Vagus nerve stimulation: With vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), a device is placed under the skin in your chest. The device is connected to a nerve in your neck called the vagus nerve. The device sends electrical impulses through your vagus nerve to your brain. The impulses have been shown to help reduce seizures.