Managing Drug Side Effects

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021

Brain fog and memory issues are common side effects of seizures and some anti-seizure drugs that can complicate your treatment. Not only are these frustrating, but memory problems can make it hard to remember to take your medicines correctly, on time, or even take them at all. To make matters worse, instructions on some pill bottles can be confusing.1

It is important that these issues are worked out alongside your neurologist so you find the best way to take your medicines for seizure control.

Trusting your doctor

Having a doctor you can talk to and feel comfortable with is important. You will need to be able to discuss side effects of your anti-seizure drugs, and having someone you trust is a priority. You and your doctor will work as a team to make sure you are getting the right care you need to manage your epilepsy symptoms.2

Take an active role in your care. Be honest with your doctor about your symptoms and all the supplements and herbs you are taking. You may not think that an over-the-counter supplement impacts your anti-seizure drug, but your doctor will want to know that you are taking it.1-3

Also, make sure and provide details about how and when you are taking your medicines. Sometimes, drugs are taken on an empty stomach when they should be taken with food. If a drug is meant to be taken at night and you take it in the morning, you may be experiencing side effects. These things can be easily identified by an open and honest conversation with a doctor who you trust.1-3

You may find it helpful to organize your thoughts using a form or your phone to jot down your questions before an appointment with your doctor. You can look at this after your appointment to jog your memory about what you discussed. You also can ask to record the conversation on your phone or other device to listen again later.

Sometimes, your doctor may need to change your treatment regimen. This might mean a simple change in dose or starting/stopping a medicine. You may also need to have a blood test or other diagnostic test to monitor before changing your treatment.4

Tips to manage medicine side effects

One of the first things you should do to help yourself is to partner with your doctor to understand what to expect with your drug regimen. Ask your doctor for more information about:5,6

  • Confirm the dose and timing of your medicine.
  • If your medicines should be taken with food or on an empty stomach
  • What the possible side effects are
  • If there are any things to avoid, such as certain drugs, over-the-counter medicines, or vitamins that should not be used with your prescribed drugs

Notice how your anti-seizure drugs make you feel. This is helpful to share with your doctor.6Have all your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. Using a single pharmacy for all your prescriptions is more than just convenient. It also ensures your pharmacist understands everything you are taking and makes it easier for your doctor to track your medicine refill history. Pharmacists are a part of your healthcare team and can protect you from possible drug interactions.7Get your prescriptions refilled early. Do not wait until you run out of your drugs before getting a refill. Skipping a dose or taking it later than usual may greatly impact your epilepsy symptoms. Schedule refills at least a week before you run out to ensure you will have your drug.7Use a pill dispenser. Pill dispensers make it easy to see if you have taken your dose of medicine since separate compartments are labeled for each day. Some pill boxes have different compartments for morning, noon, and night.7Keep a list of your medicines. It is helpful for you or your care partner to keep a list that contains details on all the drugs, supplements, and vitamins you take. This list should include the name of the drug, the dose, and the time of day it is taken. Review this list with your doctor during each clinic visit. Different doctors may prescribe different drugs for you. This is especially true if you have multiple health conditions. Doctors need to understand everything you are taking to help manage side effects and prevent negative drug interactions.

Remember to be honest with your doctor about all the supplements, herbs, and non-medical dietary additives you are taking. Anti-seizure drugs and their side effects are often impacted by these supplements and may negatively affect your health.5-7Use reminders or timers. Use an alarm or a reminder on your phone to alert you when it is time to take your next dose. Or, ask your caregiver or care partner to help you remember when it is time to take your medicine.7Texting 4 Control is a texting program from the Epilepsy Foundation made possible by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This program allows those age 13 and up to receive text reminders to record and track your seizures. This program also sends motivational messaging if you are having a rough week managing your epilepsy. You can view your seizure pattern and share it with your doctor.8Pay attention to side effects. If you notice any change in how you are feeling, physically, mentally, or emotionally, contact your doctor right away. Side effects can sometimes be serious and should not be ignored. It may be possible to switch drugs or reduce the dose to manage side effects. Do not change or stop your medicines on your own.9

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