Medication Monday: Oxcarbazepine

Welcome to the first Monday of July. Hopefully, everyone had a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend. But, since it is Monday once again, it is time for Medication Monday, the weekly series that examines mental health medications. Medication Monday is not a substitute for medical advice, but rather a brief informative introduction to some of the medications that are available for the treatment of mental illness. This week we are talking about oxcarbazepine.

Oxcarbazepine is actually an antiepileptic medication that helps control seizures. However, because it acts on the brain, it also is sometimes used off-label for mood disorders like bipolar disorder. Although being off-label means the FDA hasn’t approved of it for treating bipolar disorder, it is chemically similar to carbamazepine, which is an FDA approved mood stabilized used for the treatment of bipolar disorder.

And while I could have easily just focused on carbamazepine for this post, I wanted to talk about oxcarbazepine because I wanted to highlight the benefits and risks of off-label medications.

First, the benefits. The benefits of trying an off-label medication is that it might offer more range of relief. With mental illness, no two conditions are the same and no two treatments are the same, so you may need to try many different medications, and including off-label medications offers more options.

However, the risk of using an off-label medication is that insurance may not necessarily cover it. According to most of the research I could find, insurance companies closely scrutinize off-label medication and may not pay for an unproven treatment. That may not be the case for something like Oxcarbazepine, which seems to widely be acknowledged as an off-label treatment for bipolar disorder, but it is something to think about and ask your insurance company about in advance.

Oxcarbazepine, like any other medication, has side effects that users should know about. These include dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, headache, nausea, tremors, and vision changes. In rare cases, oxcarbazepine may also cause a decrease in the body’s sodium levels, which can cause confusion, fatigue, or headaches and in rare cases can cause more seizures.

If you are taking oxcarbazepine, or any other medication for that matter, and are concerned about side effects, you should speak to your doctor rather than stopping the medication cold turkey. Suddenly stopping medications may cause other side effects and may cause a relapse in the original symptoms you were trying to treat.

So in summary, off-label medications like oxcarbazepine can be helpful tools in the management of mental illness, but you should know that insurance might not cover it, and regardless of whether it is insurance snafus or side effects, never stop taking a medication without consulting with your doctor, because as I frequently remind people, Medication Monday is not meant as a substitute for medical advice. It is merely a brief, informative guide to mental health medications, and as always, I thank you for reading it. Until next time, be well.

Sources: NAMI – Medications – Oxcarbazepine, WebMD – Off Label Perscription Drug Use, and The Mood Treatment Center – Oxcarbazepine

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