Tip Sheet: Successful Epilepsy Treatment

Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2005

Taking a prescribed epilepsy drug is just the start. You can do plenty more to make sure your treatment works for you.

By R. Morgan Griffin
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

What can you do to improve your epilepsy treatment? Plenty. WebMD asked the experts for some advice.

  • Take an active role. You need to be more than a patient. Be an active participant in your health care. Learn about epilepsy and its treatments. Know the names and doses of your medicines. Ask your health care provider questions.
  • Take your medicine as prescribed. Your medicine won't help if you don't take it. If you have trouble remembering, buy a pillbox with spaces for each dose. Use alarms on your watch, cell phone, or computer to remind you. Ask your doctor if you should take any precautions, such as taking your pills with or without food, or in the morning or at night.
  • Don't run low on your medication. Get in the habit of requesting drug refills several days before you'll run out.
  • Store your medicines safely. Keep all medicines safely away from young children and pets. Don't keep your medicines in direct sunlight or in humid places, such as bathrooms.
  • Be careful when starting a new medicine. Take precautions, since you don't know how a new medicine will affect you. Don't drive until you're comfortable with the drug's effects.
  • Take care of yourself. "Living a healthy life is important too," says John M. Pellock, MD, spokesman for the American Epilepsy Society and chairman of child neurology at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Get enough sleep and stay healthy. Women should be on folic acid and vitamins." Also, ask your doctor if it's safe to drink alcohol when using your medicines.
  • Know what to do when you miss a dose. Everyone will forget a dose from time to time. But make sure you know what to do. Do not double-up on a dose unless your health care provider specifically tells you to.
  • Be honest with your doctor. Don't lie about missing doses. If you're not taking your medicine and your health care provider doesn't realize it, he or she might increase the dose. That could lead to side effects.

    Also, tell your doctor about other drugs, vitamins, and supplements you take. Drug interactions are a concern when you are taking an epilepsy medication.

  • Ask about side effects. Your doctor may recommend that you try to treat the side effects of some medicines. For instance, Orrin Devinsky, MD, director of the New York University Epilepsy Center, recommends that people who are using medicines that cause osteoporosis -- like Dilantin, phenobarbital, Depakote, and Tegretol -- take supplements of calcium and vitamin D to help counteract the effects.
  • Don't stop taking your medicine without your doctor's permission. Stopping medication -- especially if you do it suddenly -- is likely to lead to more seizures. Never stop taking your medicine without your healthcare provider's approval.

    "If someone stops taking a medication because of side effects and has a seizure, that can be a lot worse than any side effects," says Pellock. "Recurrent seizures can damage the brain, so it's very important to keep them under control."

  • Don't give up. Finding the right medication can take some time. You might need to try a few different drugs at different doses. They might take time to work. But if you keep at it, you'll probably find a drug that works for you.

Published June 2005.

SOURCES: Gregory L. Barkley, MD, chairman, Epilepsy Foundation's Professional Advisory Board; Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. Orrin Devinsky, MD, director, New York University Epilepsy Center; professor of neurology, NYU School of Medicine. John M. Pellock, MD, spokesman, American Epilepsy Society; chairman of child neurology, Virginia Commonwealth University. French, J.A. Neurology, April 2004; vol 62: pp 1252-1260. French, J.A. Neurology, April 2004; vol 62: pp 1261-1273. Wheless, J.W. ACP Medicine, Chapter XII: Neurology, Epilepsy, 2003. The Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy.com. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

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