Pharmacologic Treatment of the Catastrophic Epilepsies

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Treatment of the catastrophic epilepsies [infantile spasms (IS), Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), and progressive myoclonic epilepsy (PME)] remains a challenge to clinicians. For IS, adrenocorticotropic hormone has traditionally been the drug of choice in the United States but may be associated with serious side effects in some patients. Vigabatrin has shown promise in treating IS patients, particularly those with tuberous sclerosis. However, the drug is associated with visual field loss and is not commercially available in the United States. Newer antiepilepsy drugs (AEDs), such as zonisamide, topiramate (TPM), and lamotrigine (LTG), may be useful in patients with IS. Although LTG, TPM, and felbamate are approved in the United States for the treatment of LGS, the overall effectiveness of therapy in patients with LGS is poor. For PME, valproate is a first-line treatment. Zonisamide and levetiracetam also show promise. Supplementation with certain cofactors to correct deficiencies and increase mitochondrial function may be useful in some patients with PME, but response to such therapy is not well documented. Advances in our understanding of the etiologies, mechanisms, and genetics underlying the catastrophic epilepsies may facilitate more effective pharmacologic interventions.

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