To get the latest experience from our website, please upgrade your browser.
March 26 is Purple Day, the annual effort – along with National Epilepsy Awareness Month in November – to raise awareness of this neurological disorder thought to affect approximately 65 million people worldwide. The idea for Purple Day came from an epilepsy sufferer hoping to educate people about the condition and remind sufferers that they are not alone. 1
Epilepsy is characterized by recurring seizures that range in force and duration from short periods of mild trembling to longer episodes of violent shaking and convulsions in which the epileptic can do great harm to himself. The seizures typically occur without warning.
In addition to the possibility of physical injury, sufferers of epilepsy also incur what doctors call adverse psychosocial effects. Due to the uncertain nature of the attacks or as a result of the side effects of medications used to treat epilepsy, victims may become socially isolated, suffer from depression, or have difficulty succeeding in school and careers. 2
A common treatment for epilepsy is a drug called Topamax (topiramate). This epilepsy medication does not cure the disease; instead, it helps control seizures. 3
Interestingly, medical science is not fully clear as to why Topamax works. One theory is that, since epileptic seizures involve a burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, somehow Topamax is able to reduce that electrical activity, as well as the likelihood and severity of a seizure. 4
Topamax has also been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prophylaxis of patients with migraine headaches. 5 Unlike painkillers or triptans, which are used at the onset or during a migraine headache in an attempt to lessen its severity, Topamax is indicated as a “maintenance” medication to prevent future migraines.
Whether used for epilepsy or for treatment of migraine headaches, use of Topamax can have side effects. These side effects include decreased white blood cell count, increased risk of infection, and increased propensity to develop kidney stones. 6
Topamax also known to cause vision problems including acute myopia, secondary angle closure glaucoma, visual field defects, redness of the eyes, eye pain and even sudden loss of vision. 7
Other side effects include cognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders such as difficulty focusing, thinking, concentrating and remembering. Additional potential side effects are suicidal behavior and ideation, depression and mood problems, and trouble speaking and formulating speech. 8
Hyperammonemia, with and without encephalopathy, and sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) has also been reported in patients taking Topamax.
Topamax is also associated a number of side effects for women using birth control, women who may be pregnant, and babies born to women who are using the drug. 9
Women who take an oral contraceptive (birth control pill) should be advised that taking Topamax can make birth control pills less effective. For that reason, doctors typically recommend Topamax users rely on an alternate form of birth control, such as a diaphragm or condom. 10
If a Topamax user becomes pregnant, she must alert her doctor at once. The FDA advises use of Topamax during pregnancy only in cases where the benefit outweighs the potential risk. 11
Studies indicate that there is an increased prevalence of Topamax birth defects in the babies of women who take the drug while pregnant. 12 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that use of Topamax during the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of oral clefts, meaning a cleft lip and potentially a cleft palate as well. 13
Finally, Topamax can have negative side effects if used in conjunction with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Zoloft and Paxil. Side effects may include an increase in dizziness, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating. 14
Learn more about risks associated with Zoloft and Paxil.