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Epilepsy: Taking Your Medicines Properly

Introduction

You may be taking one or more medicines to prevent seizures. To get the most benefit from them, you need to consistently take the right dose of the right medicine at the right time. This can be difficult. But by following a few key tips, you can do it.

Key points

  • Become informed about the medicines you are taking. Learn their names, their purpose, and their expected side effects. Know how often you are supposed to take them and what dose you are supposed to take.
  • Make taking your medicine as simple as possible. Plan times to take your medicines when you are doing other regularly occurring activities, like eating a meal or getting ready for bed. This will make it easier for you to remember to take your medicines.
  • Take a list of your medicines with you whenever you visit your doctor. Let your doctor know if you are having problems with your medicine schedule or if you have any changes in your health that might affect your medicine needs, such as a sudden increase in seizures, weight gain or loss, unexpected or intolerable side effects from the medicine, or another medical condition.
  • It may take time and careful, controlled adjustments by you and your doctor to find the combination, schedule, and dosing of medicine to best manage your epilepsy. The goal is to prevent seizures while causing as few unwanted side effects as possible. After the most effective medicine program is determined, be sure you follow it exactly as prescribed.
 

Medicines do not cure epilepsy, but they can prevent seizures. The medicine used to treat epilepsy work in various ways to help reduce the abnormal electrical impulses in your brain. The specific medicines prescribed for you depend first on what kinds of seizures you have. Your age, activity level, overall physical condition, and other health issues as well as the side effects, health risks, and costs of different medicines, may also help determine what kind of medicine is best for you.

Remember, it can take some time and careful, controlled adjustments by your doctor to find the most effective combination, schedule, and dose of medicine to control your seizures. Preventing seizures with as few unwanted side effects as possible is the goal. It is important to follow your medicine schedule exactly as prescribed.

Test Your Knowledge

Medicines can cure epilepsy.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Medicines do not cure epilepsy. But they can prevent seizures.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Medicines do not cure epilepsy. But they can prevent seizures.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Antiepileptic medicines are most effective when you keep the proper medicine level in your body. Your doctor has set up a schedule of medicine dosages that keeps that proper level. Even slight changes in your medicine schedule or doses can throw the whole system off. If you do not take your medicines properly, you could begin (or continue) having seizures.

Taking your medicines properly can help you achieve better control over your epilepsy. If you have lost work or driving privileges, getting seizures under control—and keeping them under control—may help you get back to work or back behind the wheel. Not having seizures means you can avoid the dangers of seizures (falls, drowning, choking) and avoid stays in the hospital.

Test Your Knowledge

Even small changes in the times that I take my medicines can affect how they work.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Even slight changes to your medicine schedule or dosage can increase your risk for seizures. Consistently taking the proper dose of your medicine on time provides the most effective seizure control.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Even slight changes to your medicine schedule or dosage can increase your risk for seizures. Consistently taking the proper dose of your medicine on time provides the most effective seizure control.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Here's how you can get started taking your medicines properly.

Make a medicine plan

Work with your doctor to make a medicine plan. Things to think about include:

  • Names of all medicines. Write down both the brand name and generic name for your medicines. Have your doctor check the list. You can use this list to verify that the medicines you get from the pharmacy are correct. Get a clear explanation of what the medicine does and why you are taking it.
  • Medicine schedule. Be sure you understand how much of each medicine to take and when to take each one. Ask your doctor if your medicine schedule can be simpler. This may make it easier for you to remember to take your medicines as directed.
  • How to handle missed doses. Even the most careful people miss a dose now and then. Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you miss a dose of your medicine. Discuss and write down what to do for each medicine. What you should do if you miss a dose may differ from one medicine to another.
  • Medicine costs. If cost is a consideration in building a medicine plan, ask your doctor whether less expensive, equally effective generic brands would be appropriate for you. For most people who take prescription medicine, taking a generic form of that medicine is less expensive and works just as well as the brand name medicine. But in epilepsy, the very small differences between brand name and generic medicines may cause that medicine to no longer work in controlling your seizures.1 Talk with your doctor if you are worried that a generic version of your medicine will not work for you. You also may want to ask your doctor for a 90-day supply of your medicines if it costs less. Compare prices between several pharmacies. And consider mail-order pharmacies.
  • Medicines to avoid. Some nonprescription medicines and drugs may react with your prescribed epilepsy medicines. Make a list of medicines to avoid. And check with your doctor before taking any medicines on this list.

Get organized

Taking medicines properly means taking the right dose of the right medicines at the right time. To be sure you are taking your medicines properly, you may want to have a system to keep track of when and how you take your pills.

  • Make a list of all your medicines and keep it up to date. At every visit with your doctor, review your master list of medicinesmaster list of medicines(What is a PDF document?).
  • Plan a daily schedule of medicines. Post your medicine schedule in a prominent place near your medicine cabinet. Take it along when you travel. Record your medicine schedule in a daily planner that has spaces for hourly entriesa daily planner that has spaces for hourly entries(What is a PDF document?).
  • Use a pillbox. Get a pillbox that holds a week's worth of pills.
  • Post reminders. Get sticky note pads and post reminders to take your medicines near clocks or on the bathroom mirror to keep you on schedule.

Taking your medicines

Keep the following in mind as you follow your medicine plan.

  • Store medicines properly. Keeping medicines in a place that is too hot, too cold, or too humid (a place that is humid has a lot of water vapor in the air) may reduce their effectiveness. Find out from your doctor or pharmacist how to properly store your medicines. Always remember to store medicines out of the reach of children.
  • Watch for side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects to expect. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are having side effects from your medicines.
  • Post a list of medicines to avoid in a place where you can refer to it whenever you need to. Always check with your doctor before taking any additional medicines, prescription or nonprescription. This includes any herbal pills or dietary supplements.
  • Take your medicine list with you for each visit with your doctor. And take time to review it.
  • Notify your doctor immediately if you start having more seizures than usual. Let your doctor know if you have any changes in your health that might affect your medicine needs, such as weight gain, pregnancy, or another medical condition.

Test Your Knowledge

What tools can help me take my medicines properly?

  • A daily planner
    All of these answers are correct.

    A daily planner can be very helpful in taking your medicines properly. You can write your medicine schedule and doses in the planner and take it with you to work or school or when you travel. All of the answers are correct.

  • Sticky notes
    All of these answers are correct.

    You can post sticky notes on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror or near the clock to remind yourself to take your medicine. All of the answers are correct.

  • A master list of medicines
    All of these answers are correct.

    With a master list of medicines, you can keep track of all medicines you are taking, their proper doses, their possible side effects, and your schedule for taking them. All of the answers are correct.

  • All of the above
    All of these answers are correct.

    Daily planners, sticky notes, and a master list of medicines can all help you take your medicines properly.

  •  

I don't need to tell my doctor if I start having more seizures than usual while I'm on medicine. This is normal.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    If you start having more seizures than normal, it may be a sign that your medicine needs to be adjusted or that you need more medical tests. Tell your doctor immediately.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    You should definitely tell your doctor if you start having more seizures than normal while you are on medicine. Your medicine may need to be adjusted. Or you may need more medical tests.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

If you don't already have a medicine plan, schedule a time with your doctor to develop one.

More information about epilepsy and seizure disorders can be found in these topics:

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References

Citations

  1. Liow K, et al. (2007). Position statement on the coverage of anticonvulsant drugs for the treatment of epilepsy. Neurology, 68(16): 1249–1250.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven C. Schachter, MD - Neurology
Last Revised August 26, 2011

Last Revised: August 26, 2011

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