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Carbamazepine for Epilepsy

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
carbamazepine Carbatrol, Tegretol

How It Works

Carbamazepine prevents seizures by calming the electrical activity in the brain.

Why It Is Used

Carbamazepine is the medicine of choice for children who have partial seizures and one of the drugs of choice for treating adults who have partial seizures. It may also be used to control generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

People who have absence seizures or myoclonic seizures probably should not use carbamazepine. It does not prevent these types of seizures and can even make them worse.

How Well It Works

Carbamazepine is effective in preventing partial seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures.1

Side Effects

Common side effects of carbamazepine include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Headache.
  • Double vision and blurry vision.
  • Nausea.
  • Decreased coordination.

Your doctor may prescribe smaller but more frequent doses of carbamazepine to help reduce its side effects. High doses of carbamazepine can affect a person's thinking and state of mind, but this can often be avoided.

In rare cases, carbamazepine may cause a serious skin rash. Contact your doctor if you develop a rash while taking carbamazepine.

Using carbamazepine for a long time can increase your risk for osteoporosis and broken bones.

FDA Advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) and the risk of suicide. Talk to your doctor about these possible side effects and the warning signs of suicide in adults and in children and teens.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

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 side effects as possible. Regular blood tests help monitor the amount of medicine in your blood—it is important to maintain a consistent level. After you and your doctor figure out the medicine program that works best for you, make sure to follow your program exactly as prescribed.

  • Adverse effects. Some of carbamazepine's long-term effects may not yet be fully known. People tend to tolerate the drug quite well, and it has fewer side effects than phenobarbital, another drug used to treat the same types of seizures.
  • Drug interactions. Many medicines for epilepsy can interact with other medicines you may be taking. This means that your epilepsy medicine may not work as well, or it may affect the way another medicine you are taking works. Some of these interactions can be dangerous. It is important to tell your doctor about all the medicines, herbal pills, and dietary supplements you are taking. Carbamazepine may reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills. A woman taking carbamazepine may need to use a method of birth control other than birth control pills to reduce her chances of becoming pregnant.
  • Serious health risks. Carbamazepine can cause serious, but uncommon, side effects such as liver problems, bone marrow problems (low blood counts), and skin rash. Regular blood tests can lower the risk by identifying problems early on.
  • Risk of birth defects. All medicines for epilepsy have some risk of birth defects. But the risk of birth defects needs to be carefully compared to other risks to the baby if the mother stops taking her epilepsy medicine. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, it is important to plan ahead and talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking epilepsy medicine during your pregnancy. It you are already pregnant, it is not too late. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor about your pregnancy before you make any changes to the medicines you are taking.
  • Other concerns. For some people, carbamazepine may produce side effects or carry risks that are not yet fully known. Report any unexpected side effects or problems to your doctor.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Drugs for epilepsy (2008). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 6(70): 37–46.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Steven C. Schachter, MD - Neurology
Last Revised August 28, 2013

Last Revised: August 28, 2013

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