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What Is Levetiracetam?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 09 February 2018
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Levetiracetam is an antiepileptic, or anti-seizure, drug that treats seizure disorders and neuropathic pain. It also has off-label uses and is sometimes prescribed for bipolar disorder and Tourette’s syndrome. Children and adults can both use this medication, which is available in different forms and strengths. Like all drugs, levetiracetam has potential side effects, drug interactions, and contraindications.

Medical experts can’t definitely say how levetiracetam works, but they do know it affects the way some neurotransmitters and nerve cells act. This plays a role in affecting both behavior and conditions like seizure disorders. It also partly explains why the drug is effective in treating neuropathic pain, since this is strongly influenced by nerve behavior.

As for off-label uses, it’s not unusual for anti-seizure medications to treat bipolar disorder. There have long been conjectures about the relationship between seizures and mood disorders. Several well-known antiepileptic drugs are regularly used to promote mood stability.

Since both adults and children may use this medication, there are different formulations and types of it on the market. It comes in pill form, but is also available as an elixir. Usually provided in a low-strength dose of about 100 mg, the elixir form is often more suitable for the smaller amounts children might receive.

A variety of pill forms are available, which may vary in strength and appearance. The patient's specific dose may depend on age, condition, and response. Since levetiracetam is often used as an adjunct therapy, it’s not uncommon to adjust dose levels based on other medications.

There are a number of side effects associated with levetiracetam, though many of these are most noted when people begin the medication. They often recede as patients adjust to the drug. Studies suggest that children and adults have different rates and prevalence of adverse effects.

More than 10% of pediatric patients experience stomach upset, sleepiness, and chest and nasal congestion while taking this medication. It is also concerning that over 30% of pediatric patients experience behavioral changes, such as irritability, nervousness, and hostility. The side effects more common in adults are sleepiness, headache, and increased risk for infection.

In either population, more severe side effects may occur. One of these is new seizures. The drug also raises risk for hallucinations and delusional thinking, and may cause depression and suicidal thinking. These serious symptoms should be immediately reported. Additionally, patients should seek emergency help if they experience double vision or strong allergic reactions.

Levetiracetam isn’t usually appropriate for people with kidney disorders. Pregnant women should avoid it, as it may cause fetal damage. Nursing women may be advised not to take this medication, too.

Prior to receiving a new drug, patients should discuss with a doctor all medications they take. Levetiracetam has multiple drug interactions, but it’s especially important to understand its effect on hormonal birth control. The drug renders this form of birth control ineffective. Women should switch to a reliable non-hormonal method while taking this drug.

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