What is Phenytoin Sodium?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

Phenytoin sodium, often just called phenytoin, is an anticonvulsant medication. It is prescribed for people suffering from seizure disorders, such as epilepsy. In some cases, a doctor may also use it to treat painful nerve conditions or irregular heartbeats.

Swollen glands, jaundice and loss of appetite are side effects of phenytoin sodium.
Swollen glands, jaundice and loss of appetite are side effects of phenytoin sodium.

Anticonvulsant drugs are also sometimes called antiepileptic or antiseizure medications. They typically work by interfering with the electrical impulses in the brain that cause seizures. Anticonvulsants are usually taken on a long-term basis. Although patients may experience a reduction in symptoms, they must continue to take the drug or the symptoms may return. Phenytoin sodium should not be discontinued without a doctor's approval.

This medication is taken orally and is often given in the form of an extended-release capsule. These capsules should never be broken or crushed, but rather the patient must swallow them whole. This precaution helps prevent an accidental overdose, caused when too much of the drug is released at once.

Sometimes, phenytoin sodium may be available in the form of a liquid for patients who have trouble swallowing pills. Before taking the liquid, patients should shake the bottle. They should be careful to measure a precise dose with a medicine cup.

Patients also should avoid consuming alcohol while taking phenytoin sodium. Alcohol may increase the risk of some side effects and may lessen the efficacy of the drug in preventing seizures. Antacids should also be avoided, as they interfere with the absorption of the drug in the body.

Some serious side effects may occur. Patients should seek medical help immediately if they experience fever, hallucinations, or unusual thoughts or behavior. Loss of balance, slurred speech, and tremors may also occur. Other potential risks include jaundice, loss of appetite, and swollen glands.

Patients may consult with their doctors if they experience less serious, but bothersome, side effects. These can include joint pain or headache as well as a mild skin rash accompanied by itching. Insomnia, dizziness, and nervousness may also occur. Some people report mild constipation, vomiting, and nausea as well.

Before taking phenytoin sodium, patients must tell their doctors about all other medications or supplements they are taking. This anticonvulsant may interact with antibiotics, steroid drugs, and antidepressants. Sedatives, sulfa drugs, and estrogen hormone replacements may also preclude one from using it.

Phenytoin sodium may also interact with certain medical conditions. Diabetics may be unable to take it, as it can affect blood glucose levels. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use it, as it can cause birth defects or may harm a nursing infant.

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