Medical Toxicology and Adverse Drug Experience

, Volume 2, Issue 5, pp 324–337 | Cite as

The Risk-Benefit Ratio of Anticonvulsant Drugs

  • M. J. Eadie
Adverse Drug Experience Review


The concepts underlying the notion of a risk-benefit ratio for anticonvulsant therapy have determined the development of the drug treatment of epilepsy over many years. The risk element in the ratio arises from the various possible physical and psychological adverse effects of anticonvulsant therapy; the benefit is derived from the capacity of therapy to prevent seizures and thus reduce the disadvantages which result from having epilepsy.

The physical adverse effects of anticonvulsant therapy may involve many tissues and organs. The drugs tend to depress cerebral, cerebellar and brain stem function, and may slow peripheral nerve conduction. Prolonged intake may cause hypocalcaemia and osteoporosis, folate depletion, various haematological and immunological abnormalities, and overgrowth of subcutaneous and gingival tissues. Idiopathic reactions may involve the skin, lymph nodes, liver, pancreas, kidney and thyroid, and cause electrolyte disturbances, while maternal anticonvulsant intake during pregnancy may be associated with an increased incidence of fetal malformations. Local reactions may occur at drug administration sites, and anticonvulsants may interact pharmacokinetically and pharmacodynamically with co-administered drugs. The taking of anticonvulsants sometimes has undesirable psychological effects on both the patient and his or her family.

Epilepsy itself often results in adverse psychological consequences which emanate from the uncertainty and insecurity that is imposed by the unpredictable occurrence of seizures, from the limitations epilepsy sets on the patient’s lifestyle and employment prospects, and from unfavourable community attitudes towards the disorder. Contemporary anticonvulsant therapy is not fully effective in all patients, but to the extent that it can control seizures it may help alleviate these emotional burdens that are a result of epilepsy.

The consensus of present day medical opinion is that, in the great majority of clinical situations, the benefits of anticonvulsant therapy outweigh the disadvantages. However, to provide optimal management for individual patients, the risk-benefit ratio of therapy must be repeatedly assessed at all stages of a patient’s treatment, and therapeutic decisions taken in the light of the ratio as it applies to the individual.


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Copyright information

© ADIS Press Limited 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. J. Eadie
    • 1
  1. 1.University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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