Anticonvulsants are a group of medications used essentially to treat epileptic seizures. They may also be referred to as antiepileptic drugs (AED) or antiseizure medications. Different types are designed to act on neuron receptors to either prevent neurons from rapid firing or halt the spread of a seizure in the brain. Research has shown that they are not effective for non-epileptic seizures nor for those that develop after brain injury.
Anticonvulsants may also be used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. It was discovered that the use of AEDs stabilized mood in people who were given the medications for epilepsy. They seem to calm hyperactivity in the brain and help reduce migraines and periods of mania and depression. Divalproex sodium (Depakote, Depakene), lamotrigine (Lamictal), topiramate (Topamax), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), tiagabine (Gabitril) and carbamazepine (Tegretol) are the drugs prescribed for these uses.
It isnít fully understood, but they are also prescribed for chronic pain, particularly in postherpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy and fibromyalgia. The most commonly used AEDs for pain include carbamazepine (Tegretol), gabapentin (Neurontin), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), pregabalin (Lyrica) and topiramate (Topamax).
It is very important to pay heed to the following precautions when using these medications:
- Pregnant women should consult their physicians as some AEDs can increase the risk of birth defects.
- Interaction with other drugs can be serious. Always inform your doctor about ALL other medications you are taking, including herbs, aspirin and supplements.
- Long-term use can cause liver damage, so make sure that labs are monitored regularly.
- There can be serious side effects for some people. Consult with your doctor, so that you know what to look for and what to report. Some side effects will lessen with longer use.
- Do not miss a dose and report to the doctor if you do. It may result in seizures.
- Do not abruptly stop your medication.
- Store the medications safely.
- Wear a Medic-Alert tag.
- The use of alcohol can lower the seizure threshold; do not drink while taking anticonvulsants.
- Get adequate rest and control stress to avoid seizures.
- Eat regular, healthy meals. Poor nutrition can lead to seizure activity.
- Understand what triggers episodes of seizures and avoid those stressors.
Normally, only one medication is prescribed at a time to avoid drug interactions and reduce side effects. Medications are started slowly, in low doses, until they are titrated to reach the appropriate effect. The goal for epileptic seizures is to reduce the number and intensity, not necessarily to eliminate them altogether. Similarly, they are used to reduce chronic pain, but are not a cure. Dosage may have to be adjusted from time to time as the effects may change.
It can not be overemphasized about the importance of adhering to the prescribed regimen. Instruct a family member or close friend about your medications in case of illness or an unexpected change in your ability to take the drugs on your schedule. Keep a medical record for emergency purposes. Stay safe and stay healthy