Recently one of my closest friends was diagnosed with epilepsy. Prior to this, epilepsy treatment had always been an unknown topic and I was fairly sure that the treatments were very limited if not ineffective. I’d heard about treatment medicines to slow down your brain, making you sluggish, dull, and personally thought that the side effects outweighed the benefits. As I was told his news, I decided that as I spend a deal of time around him that I should really be aware of what to do in the event of a seizure. While doing this, I came across treatments for epilepsy and was surprised to see abundance treating its symptoms. I became interested as to how effective the current treatments for epilepsy are, as my friend began his drugs this summer.
Epilepsy can be defined as “a common serious neurological condition where there is a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain.” (Epilepsy Society, 2013) There are 40 types of epilepsy (Epilepsy Society, 2013), all without known cures but with a large amount of preventative medicine to stop seizures and treat symptoms. For the sake of my search, I focused upon the most common drugs used to treat epilepsy; Depakene ® (valproate, valproic acid) and Zonegran ® (zonisamide), which my friend is currently taking. Depakene works to target epilepsy by increasing the “level of gamma-aminobutyric acid in brain” (Farlex) thus reducing seizure activity. “ Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It inhibits nerve transmission in the brain, calming nervous activity. “ (Denver Naturopathic Clinic) Zonegran is also known to affect the levels of this acid, however its precise method of preventing seizures is unknown. It is thought that zonisamide prevents the movement of sodium and calcium, as they must move into nerve cells to build up an electrical signal to throughout the brain. By stopping nerve cells from firing rapid electrical signals this stabilizes brain activity and prevents seizure-causing signals from spreading. (Netdoctor) Although Netdoctor at first seemed to be an unreliable source, I noted that “Over 250 of the UK’s and Europe’s leading doctors and health professionals write, edit and update the contents of NetDoctor.co.uk.”(Netdoctor) and the information, particularly the one I took note form, is not written by the general public.
I dove deeper into the adverse reactions stemming from the use of Depakene, which were copious. Notable common side effects included but were not limited to “vomiting, hair loss, and a decrease in thinking speed.” (WebMD) Long term usage of the drug led to possible hearing loss, liver damage, decreased platelets (clotting cells), bone thinning and pancreatic issues. (WebMD). WebMD, like Netdoctor, turned out to be a reliable source when i was researching as many of their articles were written by experts in the field. Depakene turned out to not be the only epilepsy treatment with severe side effects, as the use of Zonegran can induce metabolic acidosis, fatal skin rashes, kidney stones, reduced white and red blood cell counts, and problems with concentration, attention, memory, thinking, speech, or language. (FDA, 2012)
Treatment for epilepsy, though abundant, is still limited. Many medicines counter the symptoms of epilepsy, but do not actively cure the disease itself.
For 70% of patients with epilepsy, drugs can control seizures. (WebMD) Medicine to prevent epilepsy, though beneficial, is still very limited as it does not cure the disease and has severe side effects. As these medications are dangerous and do not cure epilepsy, are they worth taking at all? These medications do actively prevent the biggest symptom of epilepsy, seizures. I can conclude personally, that they are worth taking, as the risk of having a spontaneous seizure is reduced if not eradicated. Nevertheless, takers should be fully aware of the side-effects and take these medicines with caution and be fully aware of the risk of severe side effects. Seizures interfere with daily life, preventing the epileptic from daily activities such as driving or swimming for the fear of having a seizure and crashing or drowning. Though the medications have severe side effects, the implications of these medicines mean that people with epilepsy can continue to have a regular lifestyle without worry of personal injury. Currently treatments for epilepsy are effective to an extent, and I do hope that research into the disease yields brighter results for cures in the future.
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Denver Naturopathic Clinic. (n.d.). GABA. Welcome to the Denver Naturopathic Clinic . Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/news/GABA.html
Epilepsy society. (2013, May 5). What is epilepsy | Epilepsy Society. epilepsy society | Epilepsy Society. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/what-epilepsy#.UhGGNKA2W0s
FDA. (2012, January 24). Medication Guide ZONEGRANÂ®. fda.gov. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM152828.pdf
Farlex. (n.d.). Depakene – definition of Depakene by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.. Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus – The Free Dictionary. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://medicaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Depakene
NetDoctor. (n.d.). Zonegran (zonisamide). NetDoctor.co.uk – The UK’s leading independent health website. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/brain-and-nervous-system/medicines/zonegran.html#ixzz2cOMj5wr
WebMD. (n.d.). Common Epilepsy Seizure Medications: Types, Uses, Effects, and More. WebMD – Better information. Better health.. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/medications-treat-seizures