Module 2


Medication Management of Epilepsy

Medications that are used to treat epilepsy are called antiepileptic drugs.1

  • The abbreviation used for antiepileptic drug is AED
  • AEDs are also called antiseizure medications or anticonvulsants

AEDs are a major part of your epilepsy treatment.1

How long you will need to take AEDs depends on specific details related to your epilepsy.1


Epilepsy Medications

How Do Epilepsy Medications Work?

Epilepsy medications work by changing the way neurons (nerve cells) in the brain talk to each other. AEDs decrease neuron overactivity in the brain. Fewer overactive neurons may lead to fewer seizures.2

Are There Different Types of Epilepsy Medications?

There are many different types of AEDs. AEDs may be different in the following ways3:

  • How they work in the brain
  • How they work for different seizure types
  • How they work for different patients
  • What side effects they have
  • How they interact with other medications
  • How you take them

Generic vs Brand Name Medications

Some AEDs are available as brand name medicines or as generics. Generic medicines may cost less than brand name medicines.4 For some AEDs, there may be more than one generic version available.4

A generic medicine has the same active ingredient as the brand name version.4 Generic AEDs should work in the same way as brand name AEDs, but sometimes there are small differences between medicines that can affect seizure control.4

Do not switch from a brand name to a generic AED, from a generic to a brand name AED, or from a generic AED to another generic AED, or from a brand name AED to another brand name AED, without talking to your doctor first.4 Let your doctor or pharmacist know if you feel differently after taking4:

  • A generic AED instead of the brand name version you usually take
  • A brand name AED instead of the generic you usually take
  • A different generic AED than the generic version you usually take
  • A different brand name AED than the brand name version you usually take

Choosing the Right Medication for You

What Is My Role in Medication Treatment?

Remember that you are at the center of your healthcare team.5 You need to work with your team to figure out which AEDs are right for you.6

Here are some things you need to do to help your healthcare team figure out which AEDs are right for you:

  • Take your AEDs as directed6
  • Track your seizures7
  • Tell your healthcare provider about side effects8
  • If you are not taking your AEDs, tell your healthcare provider why so they can decide what other AEDs might work for you7
  • Make a list of any other concerns and questions before you talk to your healthcare provider6

What Is My Treatment Goal?

The goal of AED treatment is to reduce the number of seizures.1 There are options other than AED treatment that you and your doctor may decide to try that could be helpful.

There may be other goals you and your doctor may want to discuss that are important to you, such as9:

  • Driving
  • Traveling
  • Going to work or school
  • Attending events

Talk to your doctor about requirements for driving as some places have restrictions for patients with epilepsy.

You also want as few side effects from your treatment as possible.2 Finding this balance might take time. Some people with epilepsy may continue to have seizures, even after trying several AEDs.10

All AEDs can have side effects and may affect people differently.2


Which AED Is Right for Me?



How Do We Know if My AED Is Best for Me?

How Often You Are Having Seizures (Seizure Frequency)

After you start an AED, your doctor will ask you questions about how often you are having seizures. Keeping a seizure diary is a good way to collect information for you and your doctor.10 You may be able to have someone video record one of your seizures so that you can give your doctor more information about your seizures.


A seizure diary is a record of the date and time of day that you had a seizure. You can also write down other information about the seizure, such as10:

  • What you were doing when you had the seizure
  • What you think might have triggered the seizure (such as stress, lack of sleep, flashing lights)
  • How you felt before the seizure
  • How you felt after the seizure
  • How long the seizure lasted
  • If you had been taking your AED regularly or not
  • When you took your last AED dose

Keeping a seizure diary that you share with your doctor can help the doctor understand if the AED is working or not.10

Side Effects

Your doctor may ask you about side effects, too.2 Side effects are unwanted feelings you might have from the AEDs you take.8 Some common AED side effects that might happen in the first few weeks of taking AEDs are8:

Side Effects


It is important not to let side effects keep you from taking your medication, unless you experience any of the following, in which case you should call your doctor8:

  • Sores, blisters, or ulcers in your mouth
  • Blisters on the skin
  • Excessive bleeding or bleeding won't stop
  • Stomach pain and tenderness
  • Fever
  • Unusual infections
  • Other unusual symptoms while taking a seizure medicine

You might want to keep track of your AED side effects by writing down:

  • What the side effect felt like
  • How much the side effect bothers you
  • If the side effect stopped you from doing your daily activities
  • If the side effect stopped you from taking the AED
  • What time of day you had the side effect
  • How long the side effect lasted
  • If the side effect went away
  • If the side effect is worth experiencing if the AED reduces seizure frequency
  • What time of day you took the AED
  • How much of the AED you took

Blood Tests

For some AEDs, your doctor might order blood tests to see how much of the AED is in your blood. Blood tests can help the doctor decide if an AED is working for you.2

blood tests

Your AED Regimen May Change

Your doctor might want to change your AED based on:

  • How often you're having seizures (information in your seizure diary)10
  • Side effects2
  • Blood tests2

Here are some changes your doctor might make to your AED prescription10:

  • Change the dose (the amount you take)
  • Change how often you take it
  • Switch to a different AED
  • Add another AED


AEDs Across the Lifespan



Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is important to be informed about the potential risks for you and the baby.

If you become pregnant while taking an AED, talk to your healthcare provider about registering with the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry. You can enroll in this registry by calling 1-888-233-2334. The purpose of this registry is to collect information about the safety of antiepileptic medicine during pregnancy.

If you plan on taking birth control, talk to your doctor about which birth control may be right for you and the AED medication you are taking or about other ways of preventing pregnancy.2

Talk to your epilepsy doctor if you notice that you begin feeling differently when you take your AED.


Possible Medication Challenges

Your doctors consider several things when choosing medications to treat your epilepsy. You may face some challenges as you and your healthcare team work together to find the right medications and dosage schedule for you.2



AEDs work best if they are taken regularly as prescribed by your doctor.7,13 It's important for you to understand your own personal reasons for taking your AEDs regularly.


Talking to Your Healthcare Team About Medications

Good communication between you and your healthcare team is important. Your family and friends can talk to your healthcare team, too. You might want to have someone go with you when you have a healthcare appointment. This person could help remember your questions, or take notes while you talk to your doctor.14 Or, if your doctor permits it, you could record the discussion if you can't take someone with you.

Remember that you are the most important member of your healthcare team. You need to feel comfortable asking questions. You can call anytime to ask questions. Or, take a list of questions with you when you go to an appointment.6

Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor, or another healthcare provider, if you have questions about your AED medications. Ask members of your healthcare team any questions you have about AED medications.6 There is no bad question.


Too many pills?

You might feel like you have to take too many pills each day. If you feel this way, ask if there is any way to decrease the number of pills you take.2


Side Effects

Side effects are unwanted or unexpected events or unexpected reactions to a drug that can be caused by a medicine you take. Side effects are also known as adverse events. Any medicine you take, including AEDs, can cause side effects. Side effects are things like feeling sick to your stomach, dizziness, or tiredness.8 If you are having side effects that bother you or stop you from taking your AED, tell your doctor.2 Ask if there is anything that can be done to help you feel better.


Taking Your AED Regularly

Taking your AED regularly is important for seizure control.2 Taking your AED regularly means taking the right amount (that is, the right number of pills), at the right time (for example, twice a day), in the right way (for example, with or without food).7

Are you following the directions on the pill bottle? If not, tell your doctor. You can work together to figure out what stops you from taking the AED regularly.

If you are not taking your AED at all, tell your doctor so you can talk about the reasons and discuss whether lifestyle changes or medication changes are best.7



Treatment Goals

Have you told your doctor what your treatment goals are? Your doctor needs to know them.9 This way, you can work together to find the best AED to reach your goals. Ask your doctor what their treatment goal is for you. You and your doctor may have different treatment goals.7



There Are 3 Main Things to Remember When You Talk to Your Healthcare Team About AEDs

  • First, ask any questions you have about your medications6
  • Second, let your doctor know if you’re having trouble taking your AEDs or if you’re not taking your AEDs at all7
  • Third, talk to your doctor about your treatment goals9


  1. Perucca E, Tomson T. The pharmacological treatment of epilepsy in adults. Lancet Neurol. 2011;10(5):446-456.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Living Well With Epilepsy.
  3. Epilepsy Foundation. Medication Adherence. Published November 2013.
  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research. 2016. Published February 1, 2016.
  5. England MJ, Liverman CT, Schultz AM, Strawbridge LM, eds. Epilepsy Across the Spectrum. Promoting Health and Understanding. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The National Academies Press; 2012.
  6. Epilepsy Foundation. If First Medicine Doesn't Work. October 2016.
  7. Epilepsy Foundation. Using Seizure Diaries. Published August 2013.
  8. Epilepsy Foundation. Side Effects. March 2014.
  9. Epilepsy Foundation. Goals of Therapy. May 2008.
  10. Epilepsy Foundation. If First Medicine Doesn’t Work. October 2016.
  11. Epilepsy Foundation. What’s First? March 2014.
  12. Epilepsy Foundation. How Long Do Children Need Seizure Medicine? August 2013.
  13. Osterberg L, Blaschke T. Adherence to medication. N Engl J Med. 2005;353(5):487-497.
  14. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Epilepsies: diagnosis and management. January 2012

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