Anticonvulsant drugs are medicines used to prevent or treat convulsions (seizures)in people with epilepsy. Epilepsy is not a single disease -- it is a setof symptoms that may have different causes in different people. There is animbalance in the brain's electrical activity which causes seizures. These mayaffect part or all of the body and may or may not cause a loss of consciousness. Anticonvulsant drugs act on the brain to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.
Anticonvulsant drugs are an important part of the treatment program for epilepsy. Different kinds of drugs may be prescribed for different types of seizures. In addition to taking medicine, patients with epilepsy should get enoughrest, avoid stress, and practice good health habits. Some physicians believethat giving the drugs to children with epilepsy may prevent the condition from getting worse in later life. However, others say the effects are the same,whether treatment is started early or later in life. Determining when treatment begins depends on the physician and his assessment of the patient's symptoms.
Anticonvulsant drugs include such medicines as carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin), and valproic acid (Depakote, Depakene). The drugs are available only with a physician's prescription and come in tablet, capsule, liquid, and "sprinkle" forms. The recommended dosage depends on the type of anticonvulsant, its strength, and the type of seizures for which it is being taken.Check with the physician who prescribed the drug or the pharmacist who filledthe prescription for the correct dosage. Do not stop taking this medicine suddenly after taking it for several weeks or more. Gradually tapering the dosemay reduce the chance of withdrawal effects. Do not change brands or dosageforms of this medicine without checking with a pharmacist or physician. If aprescription refill does not look like the original medicine, check with thepharmacist who filled the prescription.
Patients on anticonvulsant drugs should see a physician regularly while on therapy, especially during the first few months. The physician will check to make sure the medicine is working as it should and will note unwanted side effects. The physician may also need to adjust the dosage during this period.While taking anticonvulsant drugs, do not start or stop taking any other medicines without checking with a physician. The other medicines may affect the way the anticonvulsant medicine works.
Anticonvulsant drugs may interact with medicines used during surgery, dentalprocedures, or emergency treatment. These interactions could increase the chance of side effects. Anyone who is taking anticonvulsant drugs should be sureto tell the health care professional in charge before having any surgical ordental procedures or receiving emergency treatment. Some people feel drowsy,dizzy, lightheaded, or less alert when using these drugs, especially when they first begin taking them or when their dosage is increased. Anyone who takes anticonvulsant drugs should not drive, use machines or do anything else that might be dangerous until they have found out how the drugs affect them. This medicine may increase sensitivity to sunlight. Even brief exposure to sun can cause a severe sunburn or a rash. While being treated with this medicine,avoid being in direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.; wear ahat and tightly woven clothing that covers the arms and legs; use a sunscreen with a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 15; protect the lips with asun block lipstick; and do not use tanning beds, tanning booths, or sunlamps.
People with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain other medicines can have problems if they take anticonvulsant drugs. Before taking thesedrugs, be sure to let the physician know about any of these conditions. The physician should also be told about any allergies to foods, dyes, preservatives, or other substances.
Birth defects have been reported in babies born to mothers who took anticonvulsant drugs during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should check with their physicians about the safety of using anticonvulsant drugs during pregnancy. Some anticonvulsant drugs pass into breast milk andmay cause unwanted effects in babies whose mothers take the medicine. Womenwho are breastfeeding should check with their physicians about the benefits and risks of using anticonvulsant drugs.
Anticonvulsant drugs may affect blood sugar levels. Patients with diabetes who notice changes in the results of their urine or blood tests should check with their physicians. Taking anticonvulsant drugs with certain other drugs mayaffect the way the drugs work or may increase the chance of side effects. The most common side effects are constipation, mild nausea or vomiting, and mild dizziness, drowsiness, or lightheadedness. These problems usually go away as the body adjusts to the drug and do not require medical treatment. Less common side effects may occur and do not need medical attention unless they persist or are troublesome. Anyone who has unusual symptoms after taking anticonvulsant drugs should get in touch with his or her physician.