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The Role of Benzodiazepines in the Treatment of Epilepsy

Opinion statement

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed as anxiolytics, sedatives, and anticonvulsants. They act on the GABAA receptor by increasing the conductance chloride through ionic channels, promoting a state of central nervous system depression. The clinical properties of benzodiazepines are dependent upon the composition of the different subunits of the GABAA receptor. Each subunit, in turn, has multiple subtypes that are present throughout the central nervous system, all of which impart different clinical responses. Benzodiazepines are the first-line treatment of status epilepticus. Time to treatment is crucial, and clinical response to benzodiazepines is lost with prolonged status epilepticus. Non-intravenous routes of midazolam should be considered as an equally efficacious alternative to intravenous lorazepam, which is the most commonly administered benzodiazepine for status epilepticus when intravenous access is available. Outpatient therapy with benzodiazepines for the acute treatment of seizures is currently limited to rectal diazepam, but alternative routes of administration are under development. Clobazam and clonazepam are good options for seizure prophylaxis in patients with epilepsy refractory to multiple antiepileptic drugs. Clobazam is preferred due to its affinity for the α2 subunit of the GABAA receptor, which leads to less potential for sedation. Adverse effects of chronic benzodiazepine use are sedation, tolerance, and potential for addiction and misuse in some patients.

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Correspondence to Juan G. Ochoa MD.

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William A. Kilgo declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Juan G. Ochoa has received speaker fees from Sunovion Pharmaceuticals.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Epilepsy

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Ochoa, J.G., Kilgo, W.A. The Role of Benzodiazepines in the Treatment of Epilepsy. Curr Treat Options Neurol 18, 18 (2016).

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  • Benzodiazepine
  • Epilepsy
  • Status epilepticus
  • Seizure