Drugs can help control debilitating seizures, but beware generic alternatives

posted on:
May 10, 2010

author:
JENNIFER WALKER-JOURNEY

Epilepsy is a condition that affects less than 2 percent of the population. In years past, epileptics often suffered seizures their entire lives. But nowadays many people can manage their seizures with appropriate medication.

Epileptic seizures occur when there is a disturbance of function of neuronal systems in the brain, and they can be highly disruptive. A patient with uncontrolled seizures has difficulty obtaining a driver’s license, buying health insurance, getting a job, traveling independently, and even dating or getting married. Not knowing if or when a seizure will strike can also wreak havoc on a patient’s nerves, causing heightened anxiety and depression. Thus, controlling seizures is paramount. 

In many cases seizures can be controlled by medications. A recent survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about three quarters of the population taking medications for seizures did not report having a seizure in the past three months.

Once patients find a medication or medications that can control their seizures, they should not change. If they must switch to a generic version of their brand name drug due to cost or health insurance provider rules, they should use caution. While the active ingredients between brand name and generics are identical in anti-convulsant medications, slight variations in the inactive ingredients can lead to serious problems in some patients.

One example is Keppra. Keppra is an anti-convulsant medication commonly used to treat seizures in epileptics as well as in patients who have had traumatic brain injuries. In 2009, generic versions of Keppra became available to consumers. As with many drugs, health insurance providers began switching patients to the lesser expensive generics. For some, the results were dangerous, with some patients experiencing a relapse in seizures. Others reported debilitating migraines.

It should be noted that many health care providers believe that special care should be taken when switching a patient from a brand-name seizure medication to a generic one, or even switching between different generic versions of a medication. 

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