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How to safely take your anti-epileptic drugs

How to safely take your epilepsy medication
Article written by Dr. Siewe Joseph He is a medical doctor (Cameroon) and Research Assistant (Onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy project), University of Antwerp, Belgium

What comes to mind when you hear the words “seizures”“convulsion”, or “fits”Epilepsy of course! Simply put, epilepsy is a disease in which the brain often sends abnormal messages to the rest of the body, resulting in sudden falls, jerks, twitches or other body manifestations. 

It is not contagious and can happen to anybody.

Fortunately, there exist anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) which are very efficient in calming the seizures when taken properly. Persons with epilepsy who take their treatment properly and who are psychologically supported by their family and loved ones have great chances of leading a normal life like anyone else.

Given the chronic nature of epilepsy, patients may be required to take medications for several years. A few things are worth mentioning to ensure that these drugs do more good than harm to those who take them.

Don’t worry, we got you covered. A number of tips and advice are outlined below to help you or your loved one on this journey:

  • AEDs are most often taken daily. Inconsistencies (such as skipping some days of treatment) could make it more difficult to get the seizures under control. Therefore, patients are advised to get a drug refill as soon as the remaining stock of drugs cannot take them beyond one week.
  • Missed doses cannot be recovered by doubling the drug dosage during the next intake. The best remedy when you miss a dose, is to become consistent in taking the subsequent doses at the right time. Avoid taking AEDs beyond the prescribed doses no matter how you feel.
  • Communicate with your healthcare provider about any side effects you may experience from taking the AEDs; these may range from dizziness, nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, mood changes, to skin reactions. Open and frank communication will help the healthcare provider to personalize the choice and dosage of the AED that is best adapted for your situation.
  • Do not indulge in auto-medication or self-prescriptions with AEDs. It is not because a particular AED at a given dose worked fine for one person, that the same treatment regimen applies to you. Each case is peculiar and needs to be discussed with a qualified healthcare provider.
  • For AEDs that can be prescribed once a day (such as phenobarbital), it is advised to take them at bedtime so as to sleep off any resulting dizziness. Setting a daily alarm could help maintain this routine, in case some hectic days send you to bed earlier than usual.
  • It goes without saying that other substances that can mess up with your brain (excessive alcohol, cocaine, opioids like tramadol, etc) as well as some other prescription drugs are likely to interfere with the efficacy of AEDs in your system. Please always seek advice from your healthcare provider.
  • Concurrent use of some AEDs with hormonal contraceptives (the pill or depo injections) may cause the contraceptive to be ineffective. Higher doses of contraceptives and additional non-hormonal methods (such as condoms) are often recommended to stay clear of an unwanted pregnancy. Seek advice from your healthcare provider.

In addition, the first-line AEDs (phenobarbital, carbamazepine, phenytoin, valproate) increase the risk of fetal malformations when taken during pregnancy. Women with epilepsy are therefore advised to discuss pregnancy plans ahead of time with their partner and healthcare provider.

  • Finally, ensure that AEDs are stored in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight. Remember, each AED stock is often used for a whole month, and you wouldn’t want the drugs to lose their efficacy along the line because of poor storage conditions. And hey, always keep out of sight and out of reach of kids.

That said, you are now (almost) a pro in medication safety as concerns AEDs. But be aware that besides drugs, persons with epilepsy need your love and support.

You will NOT become epileptic by  hugging them, playing with them, or assisting them during a seizure.

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