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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Stopping Antiepileptic Drugs: When and Why?

  • Author(s): Hixson, John D.
  • et al.

After a patient has initiated an antiepileptic drug (AED) and achieved a sustained period of seizure freedom, the bias towards continuing therapy indefinitely can be substantial. Studies show that the rate of seizure recurrence after AED withdrawal is about two to three times the rate in patients who continue AEDs, but there are many benefits to AED withdrawal that should be evaluated on an individualized basis. AED discontinuation may be considered in patients whose seizures have been completely controlled for a prolonged period, typically 1 to 2 years for children and 2 to 5 years for adults. For children, symptomatic epilepsy, adolescent onset, and a longer time to achieve seizure control are associated with a worse prognosis. In adults, factors such as a longer duration of epilepsy, an abnormal neurologic examination, an abnormal EEG, and certain epilepsy syndromes are known to increase the risk of recurrence. Even in patients with a favorable prognosis, however, the risk of relapse can be as high as 20% to 25%. Before withdrawing AEDs, patients should be counseled about their individual risk for relapse and the potential implications of a recurrent seizure, particularly for safety and driving.

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