Pharmacological Management of the Genetic Generalised Epilepsies in Adolescents and Adults

CNS Drugs. 2020 Feb;34(2):147-161. doi: 10.1007/s40263-020-00698-5.


Common genetic generalised epilepsy syndromes encountered by clinicians include childhood and juvenile absence epilepsies, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and generalised tonic-clonic seizures on awakening. Treatment of these syndromes involves largely the use of broad-spectrum antiseizure drugs. Those effective for the generalised epilepsies include sodium valproate, phenobarbital, ethosuximide, clobazam, clonazepam, lamotrigine, levetiracetam, topiramate, zonisamide and, more recently, perampanel and brivaracetam. Results from the few rigorous studies comparing outcomes with drugs for genetic generalised epilepsies show valproate to be the most effective. The majority of patients with genetic generalised epilepsy syndromes will become seizure free on antiseizure monotherapy; those for whom control proves elusive may benefit from combination regimens. Early counselling regarding management may assist the patient to come to terms with their diagnosis and improve long-term outcomes. Treatment can be lifelong in some individuals, although others may remain seizure free without medication. Choice of antiseizure medication depends on the efficacy for specific seizure types, as well as tolerability. For patients prescribed comedication, drug interactions should be considered. In particular, for young women taking oral hormonal contraceptives, ≥ 200 mg/day of topiramate can decrease the circulating concentration of ethinylestradiol and ≥ 12 mg/day of perampanel can induce levonorgestrel metabolism. The use of valproate in women of childbearing potential is limited by associated teratogenic and neurodevelopmental effects in offspring. Given that valproate is often the antiseizure drug of choice for genetic generalised epilepsies, this creates a dilemma for patients and clinicians. Decision making can be aided by comprehensive assessment and discussion of treatment options. Psychiatric comorbidities are common in adolescents and adults with genetic generalised epilepsies. These worsen the prognosis, both in terms of seizure control and quality of life. Attendant lifestyle issues can impact significantly on the individual and society. Frontal lobe dysfunction, which can present in patients with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, can adversely affect the long-term outlook, regardless of the nature of seizure control. Ongoing management requires consideration of psychosocial and behavioural factors that can complicate diagnosis and treatment. An assured supportive attitude by the neurologist can be an important contributor to a positive outcome. The mechanisms underlying genetic generalised epilepsies, including genetic abnormalities, are unclear at present. As the pathophysiology is unravelled, this may lead to the development of novel therapies and improved outcomes for patients with these syndromes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / drug therapy*
  • Humans


  • Anticonvulsants