What are Anticonvulsants?
Anticonvulsants (antiepileptics or AEDs) helps to normalise the way nerve impulses travel along the nerve cells which helps prevent or treat seizures. When the brain is working normally the nerve cells talk to each other using controlled electrical signals from one nerve cell to another. This tells the body to do everything it needs or wants to do.
During a seizure there is a change in the level of nerve cell electrical signals from a normal level to an excessive or abnormal amount of nerve signals. This increased nerve activity is responsible for the signs and symptoms of a seizure. What causes the change is nerve impulses can be the result of an injury to part of the brain, stroke, brain tumor, genetic causes, metabolic problems or toxicity issues. Anticonvulsants can also be used to treat nerve pain and bipolar disorder.
How they work
Anticonvulsants keep the nerve cell impulses to a normal level so they don’t become excessive and uncontrolled, which is why they are used in seizure disorders and epilepsy. The way anticonvulsants control the nerve impulses is not fully understood but is thought to be by their action on neurotransmitters like GABA, or acting on receptors such as glutamate or by changing the electrical channels in the nerve cell.
What they treat
Anticonvulsants stabilize the level of nerve cell impulses and are used for a range of conditions including
- seizure disorders
- nerve pain (neuropathic pain)
- bipolar disorder
Types of Anticonvulsants
Please refer to the drug classes listed below for further information.
- AMPA receptor antagonists
- barbiturate anticonvulsants
- benzodiazepine anticonvulsants
- carbamate anticonvulsants
- carbonic anhydrase inhibitor anticonvulsants
- dibenzazepine anticonvulsants
- fatty acid derivative anticonvulsants
- gamma-aminobutyric acid analogs
- gamma-aminobutyric acid reuptake inhibitors
- hydantoin anticonvulsants
- miscellaneous anticonvulsants
- neuronal potassium channel openers
- oxazolidinedione anticonvulsants
- pyrrolidine anticonvulsants
- succinimide anticonvulsants
- triazine anticonvulsants
Anticonvulsant Side Effects
Your doctor may want to take occasional blood tests to monitor your health while taking an anticonvulsant. Some anticonvulsants can cause liver or kidney damage or decrease the amount of platelets in your blood. Your blood needs platelets to clot.
Each anticonvulsant may have slightly different side effects. Common side effects generally include:
- Weight gain
Most of these side effects lessen with time. Long-term effects vary from drug to drug. In general:
- Pregnant women should not take anticonvulsants without consulting with their doctor, because some of these drugs may increase the risk of birth defects.
- Some anticonvulsants can cause problems with the liver over the long term, so your doctor may monitor your liver periodically.
- Anticonvulsants can interact with other drugs — even aspirin — to cause serious problems. Be sure to tell your doctor about any drugs, herbs, or supplements you take. Don’t take any other substance during treatment without talking with your doctor.
Always talk to your doctor before stopping an anticonvulsant. Sometimes, stopping one too quickly can raise the risk of having a seizure.