Vigabatrin versus carbamazepine monotherapy for epilepsy

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Nov 18;2015(11):CD008781. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008781.pub3.


Background: This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2012 (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 1).The efficacy and safety of vigabatrin (VGB) as an add-on therapy for refractory epilepsy have been well established. However, this information needs to be weighed against the risk of development of visual field defects. Whether VGB monotherapy is an effective and safe treatment compared with the standard antiepileptic drug carbamazepine (CBZ) as monotherapy for epilepsy has not been systematically reviewed.

Objectives: To investigate the efficacy and safety of VGB versus CBZ monotherapy for epilepsy in children and adults.

Search methods: For the latest update, we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2015, Issue 3 of 4), MEDLINE (1948 to July 2015), EMBASE (1974 to July 2015) and the Chinese Biomedical Database (CBM) (1979 to July 2015). We searched trial registers and contacted the manufacturer of VGB and authors of included studies for additional information. We applied no language restrictions.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing VGB versus CBZ monotherapy for epilepsy.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. The primary outcome was time to treatment withdrawal. Secondary outcomes were time to achieve six-month and 12-month remission after randomisation, time to first seizure after randomisation and adverse events. We presented results as hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) (time to event data) or as risk ratios (RRs) with 95% CIs (adverse events).

Main results: Five studies involving a total of 734 participants were eligible for inclusion. We assessed only one study as good quality and the other four as poor quality. However, it was difficult to perform a meta-analysis by extracting aggregate data to synthesise the results as originally planned, mainly because not all studies reported the same outcomes as those chosen for this review. No significant differences favoured VGB or CBZ in terms of time to treatment withdrawal and time to achieve six-month remission after dose stabilisation from randomisation, but results did show a disadvantage for VGB on time to first seizure after randomisation. Compared with CBZ, VGB was associated with more occurrences of weight gain and fewer occurrences of skin rash and drowsiness. No differences in visual field defects and visual disturbances were noted.

Authors' conclusions: Data are currently insufficient to address the risk-benefit balance of VGB versus CBZ monotherapy for epilepsy. Given the high prevalence of visual field defects reported in an existing systematic review of observational studies (Maguire 2010), VGB monotherapy should be prescribed with caution for epilepsy and should not be considered a first-line choice. If necessary, the visual field should be frequently assessed. Future research should focus on investigating the reasons for visual field defects and exploring potential prevention strategies. Moreover, future monotherapy studies of epilepsy should report results according to the recommendations of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) Commission, and methodological quality should be improved.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Carbamazepine / adverse effects
  • Carbamazepine / therapeutic use*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vigabatrin / adverse effects
  • Vigabatrin / therapeutic use*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Carbamazepine
  • Vigabatrin