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Epilepsy drugs to treat PTSD

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have post-traumatic stress disorder. It tells you about epilepsy drugs, a treatment used for post-traumatic stress disorder. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

We don't know. Some doctors have tried using drugs for epilepsy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD). But this treatment is still experimental. There's no good-quality research yet to say whether drugs for epilepsy can help people with PTSD.

What are they?

There are several drugs that doctors use to treat epilepsy. Some of the ones that have been tried for PTSD are:

You usually take these drugs as tablets.

Drugs have been available to treat epilepsy for years, but they have only just started to be used for PTSD. There's still not much information on how well they work, so they're not used very often. Your doctor might suggest you take an epilepsy drug if you've tried other treatments and they haven't helped.

How can they help?

We don't know if they can help. There hasn't been any good-quality research looking at whether epilepsy drugs can help people with PTSD. A few small, lower-quality studies have had promising results. [86] [87] But we need more research before we can say what the benefits and risks of these drugs are for people with PTSD.

How do they work?

Epilepsy drugs seem to help stabilise people's moods. This may mean you get fewer symptoms of PTSD. Or, if you're less agitated and irritable, you might find your other symptoms easier to cope with.

Can they be harmful?

Drugs for epilepsy have side effects. One study looked at people taking carbamazepine or valproate to treat epilepsy. About half the people taking them got some side effects. [88]

Some of the side effects of epilepsy drugs are: [89]

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Feeling unsteady

  • An upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhoea

  • A rash

  • Putting on or losing weight

  • Problems with your blood (these can sometimes be serious).

The side effects vary from drug to drug and from person to person. Talk to your doctor about the possible side effects of the drug that he or she suggests.

Rarely, some people taking carbamazepine get a very bad rash. This can be serious, or even life-threatening. But the risk is fairly small. Between 1 in 10,000 and 6 in 10,000 people who take carbamazepine get this rash. [90]

There's a bigger risk of getting a serious rash if you have a particular genetic type. Nearly all people with this genetic type are from Asian backgrounds. Doctors are advised to offer Asian people a blood test to check for their genetic type, before prescribing carbamazepine. [90] It's especially important to have the test if you come from a Han Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, or Thai background.

Drugs for epilepsy can harm your baby if you take them while you're pregnant. [89] Talk to your doctor if you're thinking of getting pregnant and you're taking an epilepsy drug.

Self-harm and suicide

There is a very small risk that taking epilepsy drugs might make you more likely to think about suicide or harming yourself. [91] If you are worried about any thoughts or feelings you have, see your doctor straight away.

Last Updated: August 06, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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