The risk of varenicline-induced seizure among those who have attempted to quit smoking using pharmacotherapy

Epilepsy Behav. 2019 Aug;97:169-173. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2019.05.031. Epub 2019 Jun 26.


Objective: Varenicline is an effective smoking cessation agent; however, its use is limited because of black box warnings issued by regulatory agencies in the U.S. and Australia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated the label for varenicline in 2015 to warn about the risk of varenicline-induced seizures. The objective of this study was to examine the risk of seizure associated with varenicline use.

Methods: A nested case-control study was performed using IMS LifeLink PharMetrics Plus administrative claims data (2009-2015). The outcome was presumptive seizures. All smokers making an attempt to quit smoking and having no recent seizure events were included in the nest. Cases and controls were matched (1:4) on age (±5 years), sex, index date (±30 days), event date, and duration of enrollment. An exposure period of 90 days preceding the event date was used. Chi-square tests were used to compare the characteristics of cases and controls. Conditional logistic regression was conducted to determine if an association between presumptive seizures and varenicline use exists.

Results: Our final sample was comprised of 1342 cases and 5368 controls. The adjusted analysis showed that odds of a seizure for patients with a varenicline prescription were 1.09 (confidence interval [CI] = 0.88-1.36) times those of patients with no varenicline exposure.

Conclusions: This study did not find a significant association between varenicline and increased risk of presumptive seizures. These findings raise questions regarding the necessity for a warning label for increased risk of seizures associated with varenicline.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cigarette Smoking / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Seizures / chemically induced*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation Agents / adverse effects*
  • Smoking Cessation Agents / therapeutic use
  • Varenicline / adverse effects*
  • Varenicline / therapeutic use
  • Young Adult


  • Smoking Cessation Agents
  • Varenicline