What is Phenytoin?

Angela Crout-Mitchell

The most common uses for phenytoin is to control and prevent seizures in cases of epilepsy, and to prevent seizures during and following surgery on the brain and nervous system. This medication is classified as an anti-convulsant, and works by decreasing electrical activity in the brain known to produce seizure activity. It is available in several forms and doses including tablet, chewable tablets, and liquid designed for very young patients. To successfully treat seizures, doctors typically begin patients on a low dose to build up the medication in the system, later adding additional doses as needed. Like many other medications of this type, some people experience adverse reactions and are unable to use this drug effectively.

If phenytoin is not effective, it's often mixed with other drugs as part of a drug cocktail.
If phenytoin is not effective, it's often mixed with other drugs as part of a drug cocktail.

As an anti-epileptic drug, phenytoin is used for patients of all ages and stages of epilepsy severity. If the patient is not responding to phenytoin when taken on its own, it may be used with other medications in what is known as a drug cocktail. It is not unusual for epilepsy patients to need specialized treatment, as this condition varies dramatically from patient to patient. This drug is also effective in reducing the likelihood of seizures due to brain or nervous system surgery because it limits the brain's electrical impulses. Heart patients also use phenytoin to control irregular heartbeats.

Phenytoin is offered in a variety of forms designed to meet the needs of the various types and ages of the patients for whom it is prescribed. The extended release capsule form is ideal for adults, and is usually intended to be taken between one and four times a day. Chewable tablets are usually prescribed for children or adults who have a hard time swallowing whole pills, and is administered on an average of three times per day. The suspension liquid form is often given to babies and very young children, and is given two to three time daily. Regardless of the type of phenytoin prescribed, it is crucial for the patient to take the recommended doses at the same time every day for maximum benefit.

There is a possibility the patient may experience side effects while taking phenytoin. Some are minor and can be ignored, while others should be reported to the doctor as soon as possible. Experts suggest seeking medical attention if the patient experiences confusion, slowed thinking, and slurred speech. Dizziness and severe headache are causes for concern as well. If these symptoms appear, the patient will likely be weaned from the medication and other drug options will be explored.

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