Results of a Nationwide Veterans Administration Cooperative Study Comparing the Efficacy and Toxicity of Carbamazepine, Phenobarbital, Phenytoin, and Primidone

Epilepsia. 1987;28 Suppl 3:S50-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1157.1987.tb05778.x.


In 1985 a 5-year multicenter Veterans Administration Cooperative Study was completed that compared the efficacy and toxicity of phenobarbital, carbamazepine, phenytoin, and primidone in a double-blind prospective study design. A total of 622 patients, either previously untreated or undertreated, were entered into the study. Strict exclusion criteria limited confounding factors such as drug or alcohol abuse. Results showed that each of the four drugs used as monotherapy were similarly effective in the treatment of generalized tonic clonic seizures, but carbamazepine was significantly more effective in the treatment of complex partial seizures as measured by 100% control. When the results for all four drugs were combined, the data showed that approximately 80% of the patients were adequately managed on monotherapy. Differences in toxicity were the most significant factor that discriminated between these four drugs. Both carbamazepine and phenytoin were associated with significantly lower incidences of intolerable side effects than were primidone or phenobarbital. A behavioral toxicity battery was performed whenever possible prior to administration of any antiepileptic drug and at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months after initiation of monotherapy. Significant differences in performance on all subtests of the battery were found between patients with epilepsy and a control group matched by age, sex, and education. When the differential effects of all four drugs on behavioral toxicity were compared, few statistically significant differences emerged. However, carbamazepine consistently produced fewer adverse effects on tests of attention/concentration and motor performance than did the other three antiepileptic drugs.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbamazepine / adverse effects
  • Carbamazepine / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Phenobarbital / adverse effects
  • Phenobarbital / therapeutic use*
  • Phenytoin / adverse effects
  • Phenytoin / therapeutic use*
  • Primidone / adverse effects
  • Primidone / therapeutic use*
  • Prospective Studies


  • Primidone
  • Carbamazepine
  • Phenytoin
  • Phenobarbital