Antiepileptic drugs for the primary and secondary prevention of seizures after stroke

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Feb 7;2(2):CD005398. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005398.pub4.


Background: Seizures after stroke are an important clinical problem and may result in poor outcomes. The indications of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) for seizure prophylaxis after stroke remain unclear. This is an updated version of the Cochrane Review previously published in 2014.

Objectives: To assess the effects of AEDs for the primary and secondary prevention of seizures after stroke. For primary prevention, we aimed to assess whether AEDs reduce the likelihood of seizures in people who have a stroke but do not have a seizure. For secondary prevention, we aimed to assess whether AEDs reduce the likelihood of further seizures in people who have a stroke and at least one post-stroke seizure.

Search methods: We searched the following databases on 9 March 2021: Cochrane Register of Studies (CRS Web), MEDLINE (Ovid, 1946 to March 08, 2021). CRS Web includes randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials from PubMed, Embase,, the World Health Organisation International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), and the Specialised Registers of Cochrane Review Groups including Epilepsy and Stroke. We also checked the reference lists of articles retrieved from these searches.

Selection criteria: We selected randomised and quasi-randomised controlled studies that recruited participants with a clinical diagnosis of stroke, either ischaemic or haemorrhagic. We excluded studies that only recruited participants with subarachnoid haemorrhage, subdural haemorrhage, extradural haemorrhage, or other non-stroke diagnoses such as tumour- or infection-related infarction or haemorrhage. We also excluded studies that recruited only participants who had undergone neurosurgery. We included participants of all ages suffering any seizure type who were assigned to AEDs or placebo groups.

Data collection and analysis: In accordance with standard methodological procedures expected by The Cochrane Collaboration, two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion before evaluating trial risk of bias and extracting relevant data. The primary outcome assessed was the proportion of participants who experienced seizures in the follow-up period. We presented results as summary risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences (MDs) with 95% CIs for continuous outcomes. Where we had sufficient data, we calculated random-effects (Mantel-Haenszel) meta-analyses for dichotomous outcomes; otherwise, we reported results narratively. We used the I2 statistic to analyse statistical heterogeneity. We planned to use funnel plots to assess publication bias in meta-analyses with at least 10 included studies. We used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of the evidence.

Main results: Two studies with a total of 856 subjects were included. AEDs were not shown to be effective in primary prophylaxis of post-stroke seizure (RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.34 to 1.26; 2 studies, 856 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). The first study was a randomised double-blind study comparing valproic acid with placebo for primary seizure prevention up to one year after stroke. The study included 72 adults with intracerebral haemorrhage. There was no difference in the risk of post-stroke seizures (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.35 to 2.16) or of death (RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.40 to 3.58). The second study was a substudy on the use of diazepam in acute stroke. It was a randomised double-blind study, comparing a three-day diazepam treatment versus placebo for primary seizure prevention up to three months after stroke in 784 adults with acute stroke. There was no evidence of a difference in the risk of post-stroke seizures for all stroke or subgroups of haemorrhagic or ischaemic stroke (RR for all stroke 0.47, 95% CI 0.18 to 1.22). In a subgroup analysis of anterior circulation cortical infarcts, primary prophylaxis with diazepam was associated with a reduced risk of post-stroke seizures (RR 0.21, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.95). Risks of mortality did not differ between the diazepam and the placebo group at two weeks (RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.26) and three months follow-up (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.26). We assessed both studies to be at a low overall risk of bias. Using the GRADE approach, we assessed the overall certainty of the evidence as low to moderate.

Authors' conclusions: There is insufficient evidence to support the routine use of AEDs on the primary and secondary prevention of seizures after stroke. Further well-conducted studies are warranted for this important clinical problem.

Trial registration: NCT00542802.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects
  • Brain Ischemia*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Seizures / prevention & control
  • Stroke* / drug therapy
  • Stroke* / prevention & control


  • Anticonvulsants

Associated data