Oxcarbazepine for epilepsy - your introduction

  • February 28, 2024
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A man taking Oxcarbazepine for epilepsy

When you start taking new medication to treat your seizures, it’s really helpful to learn a bit more about the medicine and how it works. 

If your doctor has told you to begin taking oxcarbazepine, this article will give you an overview of the key things you need to know. We’ve also provided links to where you can find out more about oxcarbazepine. 

What is oxcarbazepine?

Oxcarbazepine is an anticonvulsant, which means it’s designed to help prevent or reduce the number of seizures you have. It is mainly used to treat focal-onset seizures (previously known as partial seizures). In the United States, the FDA approved it for the treatment of seizures in 1999. You’ll take oxcarbazepine by mouth - either as a pill that you swallow, or as a liquid. 

The Epilepsy Foundation says this medicine is approved for use on its own (or with other seizure medication) for adults and children aged four and above. It’s also approved for children aged two to four if they are also taking another seizure medication. 

Oxcarbazepine can be an effective anticonvulsant. In one study of 202 adults taking oxcabazepine, almost 91% of people saw at least a 50% reduction in the number of seizures they had, and some people achieved seizure-freedom. 

You must take oxcarbazepine as your doctor instructs you. You’ll usually start on a lower dose twice per day, before gradually building up the dose until your seizures come under control. 

How does oxcarbazepine work?

Our brains work by continually sending electrical and chemical signals. During a seizure, the electrical activity can get ‘over excited’ and brain cells send signals in a disordered way. Oxcarbazepine helps to prevent or reduce the number of seizures you have by slowing down how fast your brain cells fire. 

Other oxcarbazepine uses

Oxcarbazepine is mainly used to treat epilepsy. But other FDA-approved oxcarbazepine uses include:

  • Trigeminal neuralgia (sudden, sharp pains in the face).
  • Bipolar disorder (a condition where people experience periods of low mood and mania).

It is sometimes used ‘off label’ (meaning, not fully approved by the FDA) by doctors to treat some other conditions too. 

Oxcarbazepine brand name

There are two oxcarbazepine brand names in the USA:

  • Oxtellar XR
  • Trileptal

Oxcarbazepine side effects

One of the advantages of oxcarbazepine is that many people find they experience fewer side effects than with other epilepsy medications. All the same, many people still have oxcarbazepine side effects, so it’s useful to know what to watch out for. 

We’ve listed some of the more common oxcarbazepine side effects, but you should always read the leaflet in the packaging for full details. 

Common, milder oxcarbazepine side effects

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Getting double vision
  • Rash
  • Trembling hands
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Problems with coordination or walking
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth

For some people, these side effects will go away by themselves. But if they seem to be lasting a long time, or if they are causing you a lot of discomfort, then speak with your doctor. There are alternative treatment paths available

Rarer, more serious oxcarbazepine side effects

  • Allergic reactions - including rashes, itchiness, swelling or breathing problems.
  • Hyponatremia - this is when you have very low salt levels in your blood, and can cause serious confusion, headaches and dizziness.
  • Skin reactions - some people experience skin rashes, including Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) which can cause flu-like symptoms and painful blisters. This is more likely to affect people of Asian heritage.
  • Suicidal thoughts - a small number of people may start to think about committing suicide when using oxcarbazepine.  

If you begin to experience severe side effects, seek medical advice immediately.  

Learn more: Overview of seizure medications side effects

Living with oxcarbazepine

Besides this medication’s side effects, it’s also helpful to think about how it may affect your lifestyle and choices. 

Oxcarbazepine and pregnancy

If you become pregnant or are thinking of starting a family while taking oxcarbazepine, then speak with your doctor about the possible risks. 

According to a fact sheet by the National Library of Medicine, there isn’t much evidence that this medication causes problems for your baby in the womb. That said, the effects of this medicine on pregnancy have not been studied extensively and it could potentially affect your child’s development.   

Oxcarbazepine side effects sexually

You may have heard that anti seizure medications can affect your sex life. With oxcarbazepine, the picture is a little complicated. 

On the positive side, research suggests the sexual side effects of oxcarbazepine are lower than with other seizure medication, particularly for men. For example, one study looked at men who’d had erection problems when taking other epilepsy drugs. It found that when they switched to oxcarbazepine, they had fewer sexual side effects. And some people actually found it increased their sex drive. 

But other studies noticed different outcomes. Doctors have reported that some women experience lower sexual desire, difficulty achieving orgasm, or dryness while having sex when taking oxcarbazepine. And with men, one study found that around 17% said they reported sexual dysfunction, including erection problems, or inability to have an orgasm. 

If you notice oxcarbazepine side effects sexually, then speak with your doctor about the issue. They can give you advice about how to address this. 

Suggested: Sex and epilepsy - things to think about

Oxcarbazepine and alcohol

You should avoid drinking alcohol if you are taking oxcarbazepine, since it can make you feel much more tired, and could make your medication less effective. 

Does oxcarbazepine cause weight gain?

It can do. According to Drugs.com, around 2% of people who take oxcarbazepine experienced unexpected weight gain while taking this medication. It appears that people are more likely to gain weight when taking a higher dose of oxcarbazepine. 

Remembering to take your oxcarbazepine

People usually take oxcarbazepine twice per day, and it’s important to remember to take it at the same time. The Epsy App can help you with medication reminders and by logging you can remember whether you have taken it. Try Epsy for free today!

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