Research into anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs, also called anticonvulsants) has been ongoing since the 1800s. Modern anticonvulsants have been shown to be effective in treating epileptic seizures in 70 percent of children and adults who suffer from them.
What Is Anti-Epileptic Drug Therapy?
Because of the wide range of causes for epilepsy in children, there are also a wide range of AEDs used. There are currently more than two dozen AEDs available to doctors, with more being tested. This highlights the need for a correct diagnosis, since any single AED may not be effective in all cases.
The success rate with AEDs is very promising. Of the children with epilepsy who respond to anti-epileptic drug therapy, up to 70 percent stop experiencing seizures after trying one medication. An additional 10 to 20 percent no longer experience seizures after trying their second or third AED.
Some AEDs are able to be used for monotherapy, which means they are used alone. The use of more than one AED at a time to treat seizures is called polytherapy. While anticonvulsant medications are often very effective at treating seizures, they aren’t a cure.
How Does AED Therapy Work?
AEDs work by targeting the source of a child’s seizures, which result due to the unusual activity in the brain and central nervous system. Depending on the cause of the child’s seizures, the anticonvulsant medication will act to correct the chemical imbalance that leads to the seizures.
Aside from a correct diagnosis, to get the best results possible from anti-epileptic drug therapy, parents should work with the pediatric neurology team to ensure that children who take other prescription, over-the-counter or herbal medications don’t have unwanted reactions with their AED. Parents should also keep the neurology team members alert to any negative changes in the child’s condition.
A child can experience one or more side effects from taking anticonvulsant medication, though the type of severity will depend both on the specific AED and its interaction with the child’s body chemistry. While some AEDs can cause fatigue, headaches and weight gain or loss, most do cause problems with the child’s blood count. Because of this, it is common for doctors and pediatric neurology specialists to monitor the child’s blood and internal organs, such as the liver, while taking the medication.
Parents will be informed of any potential side effects in order to make the best decisions about their child’s treatment. In many cases, the administration of AEDs will begin slowly to minimize any potential side effects.
Who Benefits from AED Therapy?
Whether or not a child will benefit from anticonvulsant medication will largely depend on their diagnosis. However, a small number of children do not respond to AEDs, and other children have epileptic conditions that do not benefit from anti-epileptic drug therapy.
For children who are not able to benefit from anti-epileptic drug therapy, other options are available. Ketogenic diets have been found to lessen and even eliminate the occurrence of seizures in some children with epilepsy. Additionally, epileptic surgical procedures such as the corpus callosotomy and vagal nerve stimulator exist to treat the source of seizures within the brain.