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How Effective Is Phenytoin for Seizures?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Phenytoin for seizures works extremely well and is commonly considered as the first treatment option. This medication is used to prevent the onset of seizures and reduce their severity when they do occur. Patients may need to undergo several weeks of adjustments to find an appropriate dose. If they respond poorly, alternatives are available and it may be possible to control the seizures via these means.

Not all seizures respond well to phenytoin. It tends to be most effective for patients with generalized tonic-clonic seizures or partial onset seizures, as opposed to other conditions. The patient may start initially on a low dose to get used to the medication, and it can be slowly increased over time. While the dosage is being tapered up, patients need to report for regular check-ins to see if the phenytoin for seizures is working and evaluate for side effects.

There are some concerns about side effects with phenytoin for seizures. Some patients experience dizziness, sleepiness, and nausea, which can make it hard to stay on the medication. They can also develop severe allergic reactions which may include rashes and difficulty breathing, indicating that the medication is not safe for them and should be immediately discontinued. Another worry is the known teratogenic effects, which make it unsafe for use in pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant.

Over time, dosage adjustments can find the optimal dose where the patient experiences good control with low side effects. Sometimes a patient will stop responding to phenytoin for seizures, in which case it will be necessary to switch to a different drug. Other patients don’t do well on the medication, and need to pursue other options. Some develop refractory epilepsy, a condition that resists treatment with multiple medications and can be frustrating to manage. This condition may require careful evaluation with a neurologist to explore possible causes and treatments.

While on phenytoin for seizures, there are some steps patients can take to make it more effective. These include taking the dose as recommended at the right time every day to keep serum levels high. It’s also important to discuss potential drug interactions that might cause problems, including reactions with over the counter medications a medical provider may not be aware the patient is taking. Some patients also find that dietary controls can help with seizures, and may want to consider integrating these for more complete control.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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