Current Treatment Options in Neurology

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 529–543 | Cite as

Safe Treatment of Seizures in the Setting of HIV/AIDS

  • Omar SiddiqiEmail author
  • Gretchen L. Birbeck

Opinion statement

HIV+ patients are at increased risk for developing seizures due to the vulnerability of the central nervous system to HIV-associated diseases, immune dysfunction, and metabolic disturbances. In patients with acute seizures, standard protocols still apply with urgent seizure cessation being the priority. Management of the person with established epilepsy who contracts HIV is challenging, but the decision to initiate chronic antiepileptic drug (AED) therapy in an HIV+ patient is also difficult. Chronic treatment guidelines emphasize the interactions between AEDs and antiretroviral (ARV) medications, but provide no explicit advice regarding when to initiate an AED, what medication to select, and/or the duration of treatment. Epidemiologic data regarding seizure recurrence risk in HIV+ individuals is not available. The risk of further seizures likely depends upon the underlying etiology for the seizure(s) and patients’ immune status and may be increased by the use of efavirenz (an ARV). The issues for consideration include AED-ARV interactions, organ dysfunction, seizure type, and drug side effects, which may worsen or be confused with symptoms of HIV and/or epilepsy. Co-administration of enzyme inducing (EI)-AEDs and ARVs can result in virological failure, breakthrough seizure activity, AED toxicity, and/or ARV toxicity. Where available, the AED of choice in HIV+ patients is levetiracetam due to its broad spectrum activity, ease of use, minimal drug interactions, and favorable side effect profile. Lacosamide, gabapentin, and pregabalin are also favored choices in patients with partial onset seizures and/or those failing levetiracetam. Where newer AEDs are not available, valproic acid may be the treatment of choice in terms of an AED, which will not cause enzyme induction-associated ARV failure, but its side effect profile causes other obvious problems. In resource-limited settings (RLS) where only EI-AEDs are available, there are no good treatment options and further pressure needs to be placed upon policymakers to address this care gap and public health threat.


Seizure Epilepsy HIV AIDS Antiepileptic drugs Antiretroviral medications Highly active antiretroviral therapy Opportunistic infections Treatment Safe treatment Cerebrovascular disease HIV viremia Acute management Chronic management 



Gretchen L. Birbeck has received grant support from the National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of Interest

Omar Siddiqi declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Gretchen L. Birbeck has served on a board for Lifting the Burden.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterBostonUSA
  2. 2.University of Zambia School of Medicine, c/o Epilepsy Associated Stigma in ZambiaLusakaZambia
  3. 3.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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