Epileptogenic potential of carbapenem agents: mechanism of action, seizure rates, and clinical considerations

Pharmacotherapy. 2011 Apr;31(4):408-23. doi: 10.1592/phco.31.4.408.


Antimicrobials are the most frequently implicated class of drugs in drug-induced seizure, with β-lactams being the class of antimicrobials most often implicated. The seizure-inducing potential of the carbapenem subclass may be directly related to their β-lactam ring structure. Data on individual carbapenems and seizure activity are scarce. To evaluate the available evidence on the association between carbapenem agents and seizure activity, we conducted a literature search of the MEDLINE (1966-May 2010), EMBASE (1974-May 2010), and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970-May 2010) databases. Reference citations from the retrieved articles were also reviewed. Mechanistically, seizure propensity of the β-lactams is related to their binding to γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. There are numerous reports of seizure activity associated with imipenem-cilastatin, with seizure rates ranging from 3-33%. For meropenem, doripenem, and ertapenem, the seizure rate for each agent is reported as less than 1%. However, as their use increases and expands into new patient populations, the rate of seizures with these agents may increase. High-dose therapy, especially in patients with renal dysfunction, preexisting central nervous system abnormalities, or a seizure history increases the likelihood of seizure activity. Although specific studies have not been conducted, data indicate that carbapenem-associated seizure is best managed with benzodiazepines, followed by other agents that enhance GABA transmission. Due to the drug interaction between carbapenems and valproic acid, resulting in clinically significant declines in valproic acid serum concentrations, the combination should be avoided whenever possible. Clinicians should be vigilant regarding the possibility of carbapenem-induced seizures when selecting and dosing antimicrobial therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anticonvulsants / administration & dosage
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Carbapenems / administration & dosage
  • Carbapenems / adverse effects*
  • Carbapenems / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Seizures / chemically induced*
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Carbapenems