Trileptal Side Effects in Bipolar Disorder

Common and Serious Side Effects and a Comparison to its Sister Drug

Upset woman looking at happy reflection in mirror
A bipolar woman looking in the mirror. Hristo Shindov/Getty Images

Trileptal, generic name oxcarbazepine, is an anti-seizure medication that is sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder — although it effectiveness is still somewhat unclear.

Like any medication, there are potential side effects. Let's review these possible side effects so you feel prepared if starting this medication.

What are the Common Side Effects of Trileptal?

Common side effects are ones that are most frequently seen in people who take Trileptal.

According to the FDA, common side effects of Trileptal include:

  • dizziness
  • sleepiness
  • double vision or other problems with vision
  • feeling tired
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • ataxia
  • stomach pain
  • trembling
  • rash
  • infections — especially in children

Likewise, in a 2011 review study in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews on the use of Trileptal (oxcarbazepine) in people with bipolar disorder, the most frequent side effects reported were dizziness, sedation, and blurry vision.

What are the Serious Side Effects of Trileptal?

One serious side effect of Trileptal is that it can cause the sodium in your blood to be low, a condition called hyponatremia. According to the FDA, symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea, low energy, headache, confusion, or seizures. It seems that people are most at risk of developing low sodium in their blood in the first 12 weeks of taking Trileptal.

Another potential serious side effect is an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction may or may not include a rash, swelling of the face, eyes, lips, or tongue, or problems breathing. Serious and potentially fatal rashes can occur as a result of taking Trileptal, like Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

Trileptal can also affect the liver and blood cells.

Symptoms or signs of these side effects may include yellowing of the skin or eyes, unusual bruising or bleeding, severe fatigue or weakness, severe muscle pain, or frequent infections or infections that don't go away.

Finally, similar to other anti-seizure medications, Trileptal may lead to thoughts or actions of suicide, This side effect is rare, occurring in about 1 in 500 people, according to the FDA. That being said, seek emergency medical attention or call 911 if you experience this side effect.

Do Trileptal and Tegretol Have Similar Side Effects?

Trileptal (oxcarbazepine) is an analogue to Tegretol (carbamazapine), meaning they share a similar chemical structure. Both are anti-seizure medications and Tegretol (carbamazepine) is also used sometimes to treat bipolar disorder. While they have similar side effect profiles, there are some subtle differences, according to a 2011 review study in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews.

For instance, rash is less common with oxcarbazepine than with carbamazepine.

Still, about a third of people who are allergic to carbamazepine are also allergic to oxcarbazepine. So please tell your doctor if you have had an allergic reaction before to Tegretol (carbamazapine)

Also, hyponatremia may be more common in people who take oxcarbazepine versus carbamazepine, especially if that person is older and has a low blood sodium level at baseline.

What Should I Do?

First and foremost, never start or stop a medication without first seeing your physician. Also be sure to followup with your physician once you are prescribed a medication.

It's also important to know that other side effects not listed above may occur in some people. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list or to replace information provided by your personal doctor. If you notice any other side effects or have any concerns when taking Trileptal, please check in with your doctor.

Sources:

Food and Drug Administration. (2011). Medication Guide: Trileptal (oxcarbazepine). Retrieved November 6th 2015.

Vasudev et al. Oxcarbazepine for acute effective episodes in bipolar disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD004857.

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