Modern antiepileptic drugs: guidelines and beyond

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Purpose of review

Ten antiepileptic drugs have been licensed since 1990. Their usage will be briefly reviewed focusing on new data and inclusion in guidelines. The hypotheses exploring the underlying basis of pharmacoresistance will be presented.

Recent findings

Lamotrigine, gabapentin, topiramate, and oxcarbazepine are available for use as monotherapy in many countries following comparative studies with older antiepileptic drugs. Zonisamide and pregabalin have recently obtained licences as adjuvant therapy in the US and Europe for partial epilepsy with or without secondary generalization. The UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence guideline has advised, largely based on cost, against the routine use of modern antiepileptic drugs, except when older drugs have failed or are contraindicated. This contrasts with the US guidelines which are less conservative. Surgically resected specimens from patients with refractory epilepsy have led to the development of two hypotheses to explain pharmacoresistant epilepsy.


The introduction of 10 new antiepileptic drugs has provided greater choice for patients and doctors, although evidence in support of their superiority over the older drugs is sparse. This has led to conflicting advice in guidelines. Recent developments in the understanding of pharmacoresistance may explain the relatively high incidence of refractory epilepsy.

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