Use of antiepileptic drugs in the treatment of epilepsy in people with intellectual disability

J Intellect Disabil Res. 1998 Dec:42 Suppl 1:1-15.


The main principles of antiepileptic drug treatment of epilepsy in patients with intellectual disability are basically the same as for other patients with epilepsy. However, some specific issues need to be taken into account These are primarily associated with the diagnostic difficulties of epilepsy in this population. In addition, a number of other relevant issues, including the degree and location of brain lesion, the nature of the underlying disease, the higher frequency of difficult-to-treat epilepsies, the additional intellectual impairment caused by inappropriate antiepileptic medication, or by frequent and prolonged seizures, the appropriate use of monotherapy versus rational polytherapy, and the use of broad-spectrum antiepileptic drugs will be discussed in the present paper. Although the goals of treatment are to keep the patient seizure-free and alert while preventing possible mental deterioration, we have to accept compromises between these primary goals in many cases. Some people with epilepsy and intellectual disability are very vulnerable to insidious neurotoxic effects; for example, sedative effects caused by phenobarbital, or cognitive and/or cerebellar dysfunction caused by long-term phenytoin, especially together with other drugs. Because of the adverse effects of phenobarbital and phenytoin, these drugs are no longer recommended as a first-choice drugs when long-term antiepileptic medication is required. In primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures, valproate, oxcarbazepine/carbamazepine and lamotrigine are recommended in this order of preference. The corresponding recommendations are: in typical absences, valproate, ethosuximide and lamotrigine; in atypical absences, valproate and lamotrigine; in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, valproate, lamotrigine and clobazam; in infantile spasms vigabatrin, ACTH and valproate; in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, valproate, lamotrigine and vigabatrin; in atonic seizures, valproate and lamotrigine; in simple and complex partial seizures with or without secondary generalization, oxcarbazepine/carbamazepine, valproate/ vigabatrin and lamotrigine; and in status epilepticus lorazepam, diazepam and clonazepam together with phenytoin or fosphenytoin. In cases of poor response to the monotherapy recommended above, the following combinations may be indicated: in primary generalized tonic-clonic epilepsy, valproate and oxcarbazepine/ carbamazepine, or valproate and lamotrigine; in typical absences, valproate and lamotrigine, or valproate and ethosuximide; in juvenile myolonic epilepsy, valproate and lamotrigine, or valproate and clonazepam; and in partial epilepsies, add to the monotherapy one of the following drugs, vigabatrin, lamotrigine, gabapentin, tiagabine, topiramate, zonisamide or clobazam. So far, the order of preference of these new drugs remains undetermined. More data are needed on the efficacy and adverse effects of the new drugs based on controlled studies on patients with intellectual disability and epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects*
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacokinetics
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • Epilepsy / complications*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / complications*


  • Anticonvulsants