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What You Should Know about Rescue Epilepsy Treatments

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Whether you or a loved one has recently been prescribed a rescue epilepsy treatment, or you are curious about whether a rescue epilepsy treatment could be right for you, learning more about these medications is an important first step. We’ve compiled a few facts to get you started: 

1.  Rescue epilepsy treatments don’t replace regular maintenance therapies.

Maintenance therapies, including anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs), are used on a regular schedule to decrease seizure frequency and duration. These therapies are most often taken orally (by mouth) and absorbed into the bloodstream. Because maintenance therapies spread slowly through the bloodstream when taken orally, they are not effective as rescue epilepsy treatments. 

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In contrast, rescue epilepsy treatments are used in an emergency during an ongoing seizure. A seizure emergency can include a seizure that lasts longer than usual, any seizure longer than five minutes (also known as status epilepticus), or any seizures that occur multiple times in a row without the person regaining full consciousness in between (also known as cluster seizures). 

Rescue epilepsy treatments can be important for seizure management but do not replace the need for prescription maintenance therapies. We recommend talking to your doctor if you have any concerns about your or your loved one’s current treatment plan.

2.  Some rescue treatments are administered by a doctor – but not all.

While some rescue epilepsy treatments require a medical professional to administer them in a hospital setting, a doctor will sometimes prescribe a rescue medication that a patient or caregiver can administer outside of a hospital. Reasons a rescue epilepsy treatment may be prescribed for at-home use include: 

  • A person has frequent seizures despite the use of maintenance therapies
  • A person lives a far distance from an emergency room
  • A person is prone to having long seizures
  • A person frequently forgets to take their maintenance therapies 

Usually a caregiver will administer the rescue epilepsy treatment on behalf of their loved one. 

Your doctor should train you (or your loved one) on how to administer the rescue treatment when it is first prescribed, and it’s recommended that you practice in a safe space — like your doctor’s office or home — so you know how the medication will affect you or your loved one. 

3.  Rescue treatments come in different forms.

Prescription rescue epilepsy treatments come in different forms. There are currently three therapies officially approved as rescue epilepsy treatment options. These are available in rectal gel or nasal spray form. When considering what rescue treatment is right for you or your loved one, here are several things to keep in mind: 

  • How quickly the treatment takes effect
  • What forms are available for a specific treatment 
  • Possible side effects of treatment
  • Who can administer the treatment
  • How easy the treatment is to administer 

Sometimes your doctor may recommend a specific type of rescue treatment for you or your loved one. For example, children with hard-to-control epilepsy may be prescribed a nasal spray or rectal gel that can be easily applied by a parent or caregiver. 

Finally, a note for caregivers: 

Caregivers play an important role in the decision-making process of their loved one’s epilepsy treatment. You can provide useful information that your loved one may not know to their doctor, such as average seizure duration and how long it takes the person to regain full ability following a seizure. 

The information you share can help a doctor decide whether or not a prescription for rescue epilepsy treatment is appropriate for your loved one, and if so, which treatment to prescribe.

Originally published: March 31, 2023
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