The anticonvulsants, also called antiepileptic drugs (abbreviated "AEDs"), are a diverse group of pharmaceuticals used in the treatment of epileptic seizures. Anticonvulsants are also increasingly being used the treatment of bipolar disorder, since many seem to act as mood stabilizers. The goal of an anticonvulsant is to suppress the rapid and excessive firing of neurons that start a seizure. Failing this, a good anticonvulsant would prevent the spread of the seizure within the brain and offer protection against possible excitotoxic effects that may result in brain damage. However, anticonvulsants themselves have been linked to lowered IQ.

The major molecular targets of marketed anticonvulsant drugs are 1) voltage-gated sodium channels; 2) components of the GABA system, including GABAA receptors, the GAT-1 GABA transporter, and GABA transaminase; and 3) voltage-gated calcium channels.

Some anticonvulsants have shown antiepileptogenic effects in animal models of epilepsy. That is, they either prevent the expected development of epilepsy or can halt or reverse the progression of epilepsy. However, no drug has been shown to prevent epileptogenesis (the development of epilepsy after an injury such as a head injury) in human trials.


The usual method of achieving approval for a drug is to show it is effective when compared against placebo, or that it is more effective than an existing drug. In monotherapy (where only one drug is taken) it is considered unethical by most to conduct a trial with placebo on a new drug of uncertain efficacy. This is because untreated epilepsy leaves the patient at significant risk of death. Therefore, almost all new epilepsy drugs are initially approved only as adjunctive (add-on) therapies. Patients whose epilepsy is currently uncontrolled by their medication (i.e., it is refractory to treatment) are selected to see if supplementing the medication with the new drug leads to an improvement in seizure control. Any reduction in the frequency of seizures is compared against a placebo.

Once there is confidence that a drug is likely to be effective in monotherapy, trials are conducted where the drug is compared to an existing standard. For partial-onset seizures, this is typically carbamazepine. Despite the launch of over ten drugs since 1990, no new drug has been shown to be more effective than the older set, which includes carbamazepine, valproate and phenytoin. The lack of superiority over existing treatment, combined with the lack of placebo-controlled trials, means that few modern drugs have earned FDA approval as initial monotherapy. In contrast, Europe only requires equivalence to existing treatments, and has approved many more. Despite their lack of FDA approval, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society still recommend a number of these new drugs as initial monotherapy.


In the following list, the dates in parentheses are the earliest approved use of the drug.


Main article: Aldehydes

  • Paraldehyde (1882). One of the earliest anticonvulsants. Still used to treat status epilepticus, particularly where there are no resuscitation facilities.

Aromatic allylic alcohols

  • Stiripentol (2001 - limited availability). Indicated for the treatment of severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy (SMEI).


Main article: Barbiturates

Barbiturates are drugs that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and by virtue of this they produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to anesthesia. The following are classified as anticonvulsants:

Phenobarbital was the main anticonvulsant from 1912 till the development of phenytoin in 1938. Today, phenobarbital is rarely used to treat epilepsy in new patients since there are other effective drugs that are less sedating. Phenobarbital sodium injection can be used to stop acute convulsions or status epilepticus, but a benzodiazepine such as lorazepam, diazepam or midazolam is usually tried first. Other barbiturates only have an anticonvulsant effect at anaesthetic doses.


Main article: Benzodiazepines

The benzodiazepines are a class of drugs with hypnotic, anxiolytic, anticonvulsive, amnestic and muscle relaxant properties. Benzodiazepines act as a central nervous system depressant. The relative strength of each of these properties in any given benzodiazepine varies greatly and influences the indications for which it is prescribed. Long-term use can be problematic due to the development of tolerance and dependency. Of the many drugs in this class, only a few are used to treat epilepsy:

  • Clobazam (1979). Notably used on a short-term basis around menstruation in women with catamenial epilepsy.
  • Clonazepam (1974).
  • Clorazepate (1972).

The following benzodiazepines are used to treat status epilepticus:

  • Diazepam (1963). Can be given rectally by trained care-givers.
  • Midazolam (N/A). Increasingly being used as an alternative to diazepam. This water-soluble drug is squirted into the side of the mouth but not swallowed. It is rapidly absorbed by the buccal mucosa.
  • Lorazepam (1972). Given by injection in hospital.

Nitrazepam, temazepam, and especially nimetazepam are powerful anticonvulsant agents, however their use is rare due to an increased incidence of side effects and strong sedative and motor-impairing properties.


Main article: Bromides

  • Potassium bromide (1857). The earliest effective treatment for epilepsy. There would not be a better drug for epilepsy until phenobarbital in 1912. It is still used as an anticonvulsant for dogs and cats.


Main article: Carbamates

  • Felbamate (1993). This effective anticonvulsant has had its usage severely restricted due to rare but life-threatening side effects.


Main article: Carboxamides

The following are carboxamides:

  • Carbamazepine (1963). A popular anticonvulsant that is available in generic formulations.
  • Oxcarbazepine (1990). A derivative of carbamazepine that has similar efficacy but is better tolerated.

Fatty acids

Main article: Fatty acids

The following are fatty-acids:

Vigabatrin and progabide are also analogs of GABA.

Fructose derivatives

Gaba analogs


Main article: Hydantoins

The following are hydantoins:


Main article: Oxazolidinediones

The following are oxazolidinediones:


Main article: Propionates


Main article: Pyrimidinediones


Main article: Pyrrolidines


Main article: Succinimides

The following are succinimides:


Main article: Sulfonamides


Main article: Triazines


Main article: Ureas

Valproylamides (amide derivatives of valproate)

Main article: Amides


The ketogenic diet is a strict medically supervised diet that has an anticonvulsant effect. It is typically used in children with refractory epilepsy.


The vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) is a device that sends electric impulses to the left vagus nerve in the neck via a lead implanted under the skin. It was FDA approved in 1997 as an adjunctive therapy for partial-onset epilepsy.

Marketing approval history

The following table lists anticonvulsant drugs together with the date their marketing was approved in the US, UK and France. Data for the UK and France is incomplete. In recent years, the European Medicines Agency has approved drugs throughout the European Union. Some of the drugs are no longer marketed.

Drug Brand US UK France
acetazolamide Diamox 1953-07-271953-07-27 1988
carbamazepine Tegretol 1974-07-151974-07-15 1965 1963
clobazam Frisium 1979
clonazepam Klonopin/Rivotril 1975-06-041975-06-04 1974
diazepam Valium 1963-11-151963-11-15
divalproex sodium Depakote 1983-03-101983-03-10
ethosuximide Zarontin 1960-11-021960-11-02 1955 1962
ethotoin Peganone 1957-04-221957-04-22
felbamate Felbatol 1993-07-291993-07-29
fosphenytoin Cerebyx 1996-08-051996-08-05
gabapentin Neurontin 1993-12-301993-12-30 1993-05May 1993 1994-10October 1994
lamotrigine Lamictal 1994-12-271994-12-27 1991-10October 1991 1995-05May 1995
levetiracetam Keppra 1999-11-301999-11-30 2000-09-292000-09-29 2000-09-292000-09-29
mephenytoin Mesantoin 1946-10-231946-10-23
metharbital Gemonil 1952
methsuximide Celontin 1957-02-081957-02-08
methazolamide Neptazane 1959-01-261959-01-26
oxcarbazepine Trileptal 2000-01-142000-01-14 2000
phenobarbital 1912 1920
phenytoin Dilantin/Epanutin 1938 1938 1941
phensuximide Milontin 1953
pregabalin Lyrica 2004-12-302004-12-30 2004-07-062004-07-06 2004-07-062004-07-06
primidone Mysoline 1954-03-081954-03-08 1952 1953
sodium valproate Epilim 1977-12December 1977 1967-06June 1967
stiripentol Diacomit 2001-12-052001-12-05 2001-12-052001-12-05
tiagabine Gabitril 1997-09-301997-09-30 1998 1997-11November 1997
topiramate Topamax 1996-12-241996-12-24 1995
trimethadione Tridione 1946-01-251946-01-25
valproic acid Depakene/Convulex 1978-02-281978-02-28 1993
vigabatrin Sabril 1989
zonisamide Zonegran 2000-03-272000-03-27 2005-03-102005-03-10 2005-03-102005-03-10

See also


External links

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