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What is absence seizure treatment?

If an individual has been diagnosed with absence seizures, also called petite mal seizures, their doctor will prescribe an anti-seizure medication. There are a variety of medications used to treat both simple absence seizures (staring off into space for less than 10 seconds) and complex absence seizures (staring off into space along with blinking, chewing or hand gestures). The most commonly prescribed medication is ethosuximide (zarontin). Other medications include (but are not limited to) valproic acid (depakene) and lamotrigine (lamictal). Individuals with epilepsy should wear a medical bracelet that states the medication they use and who should be contacted in case of an emergency.

Risk factors

Valproic acid (depakene) is effective but has been linked to birth defects in babies. This medication should be avoided in women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, and women of child-bearing age.

What to expect

It often takes several months to determine the optimal medication and dosage to control absence seizures. During this time, you will be closely evaluated through blood tests to measure your response to the prescribed medication. If the medications are not effective, your seizures may be non-epileptic. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend additional testing for more extensive evaluation.

The type of medication and dosage may need to be adjusted depending on how well it controls seizures. Under a doctor’s supervision, children can often begin to taper off anti-seizure medication if they are seizure-free for two years.

Possible side effects

For the majority of individuals with epilepsy, medications can control seizures. However, there are often side effects of these medications, such as:

  • Ethosuximide (zarontin): Nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Valproic acid (depakene): Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tremor, hair loss, weight gain, depression in adults, irritability in children, bone thinning and swelling of the ankles
  • Lamotrigine (lamictal): Dizziness, insomnia and rash (This medication has fewer side effects than other seizure medications but may not be as effective at controlling seizures.)

Our Epilepsy Center offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient epilepsy services designed to improve the lives of patients and their families dealing with epilepsy and related disorders.

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