Overtreatment in epilepsy: How it occurs and how it can be avoided

Emilio Perucca, Patrick Kwan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


In pharmacotherapy, overtreatment may be defined as an excessive drug load (that is, excessive drug dosages or unnecessary polypharmacy) leading to a suboptimal risk-to-benefit ratio. The risk of overtreatment in the pharmacological management of epilepsy is substantial and may have serious consequences in terms of a greater incidence and severity of adverse effects. These effects can range from subtle CNS impairment to overt toxic effects, including teratogenicity. Overtreatment also causes increased treatment costs and may even lead to a paradoxical deterioration in seizure control. The prevention and correction of overtreatment requires a thorough understanding of the situations and mechanisms that lead to inappropriate prescribing of antiepileptic drugs. These include initiating treatment in conditions where it is not indicated (for example, long-term prophylaxis after head trauma or supratentorial surgery in seizure-free patients), use of excessively fast titration rates, prescription of excessively high initial target dosages, failure to consider conditions associated with reduced dosage requirements (for example, old age or comorbidities associated with impaired drug clearance), and failure to consider the dose-response characteristics of the selected drug. Many patients whose seizures do not respond to the initially prescribed medication can be optimally managed by switching to monotherapy with an alternative agent; premature use of combination therapy represents another common form of overtreatment. Overtreatment may also result from a failure to adjust the dosage to prevent or compensate for adverse pharmacokinetic or pharmacodynamic drug interactions, and from a failure to reduce drug load in patients who have not benefited from high dosages or polypharmacy. While the measurement of drug concentrations can aid in minimising adverse effects, there is also a danger of overtreatment resulting from inappropriate interpretation of drug concentration data. Continuation of drug therapy in seizure-free patients in whom the risk-benefit ratio is in favour of gradual withdrawal may also be regarded as overtreatment. Tailoring therapy to the needs of the individual patient is the key to the successful management of epilepsy. Even though the importance of complete seizure control cannot be overemphasised, no patient should be made to suffer more from the adverse effects of treatment than from the manifestations of the seizure disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)897-908
Number of pages12
JournalCNS Drugs
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes

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