Anticonvulsants – Antiepileptic Drugs

Anticonvulsants and antiepileptics drugs for the treatment of migraine headaches prevention: an introduction

Anticonvulsants, which are also called antiepileptic drugs, are prescribed to treat several medical problems from epilepsy and other seizure disorders to bipolar disorder.

The first anticonvulsant drug was approved in the U.S. in 1946. Since then others have come to the market. The drugs have become popular for treating neurological issues as well as psychiatric disorders. Researchers believe migraine and epilepsy are related and some patients suffer from both. Therefore, anticonvulsants for some migraine sufferers, serve two purposes by treating both.

There are several drugs in the anticonvulsant class. Only two anticonvulsants are approved to prevent migraines. Some of the medications in this class were discovered and approved almost a half-century ago and are considered the “first generation” in this class. Other, newer anticonvulsants, approved in the past two decades, are considered “second generation.”

Several anticonvulsants are available as generics.

How anticonvulsants work in migraine prevention

Just like many drugs on the market, doctors aren’t exactly certain how anticonvulsants help prevent migraines or reduce the number of attacks. These drugs are thought to have an impact on neurotransmitters, which are certain brain and nervous system chemicals. Anticonvulsants may also block electrical signals in nerve and brain cells.

Doctors typically recommend trying migraine prevention medications for two to six months to determine if it will work to prevent migraines.

Side effects of anticonvulsants

Women taking oral contraceptives should be aware that some anticonvulsant medications reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptives. Before starting any new medication, if you are of childbearing potential, you should discuss contraceptive options as well as the potential impact on pregnancy with your physician. Some migraine prevention treatments cause harm to developing fetuses.

More than half of people who take anticonvulsant drugs report experiencing at least one side effect. The most common side effects are dizziness, nausea and sleepiness. Some people who take newer drugs in this class also experience swelling in the feet and hands, weight gain, blurry vision, trouble concentrating and lapses in memory.


Different anticonvulsant medications for preventing migraines

There are several different anticonvulsants available by prescription, however only the following are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for preventing migraines. Please click on the links below to get specific information on each specific drug.

  1. Depakote and Depakote ER
  2. Topiramate (two common brands include Topamax and Trokendi-XR)
Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
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