Harnessing the clinical potential of antiepileptic drug therapy: Dosage optimisation

E. Perucca, O. Dulac, S. Shorvon, T. Tomson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For patients with epilepsy, effective seizure control is the most important determinant of good quality of life. To achieve this, antiepileptic drug (AED) dosages should be individualised to maximise therapeutic benefit and to avoid most - if not all - adverse effects. Several studies suggest that, in routine clinical practice, dosage individualisation is often suboptimal. This may lead to patients receiving unnecessarily large dosages. Conversely, it may lead to patients switching to an alternative therapy (when clinical response is deemed insufficient), without exploration of the full dosage range. Indeed, dosage optimisation - which should involve consideration of the treatment setting and individual patient characteristics - can be a complicated process requiring skill and patience. In general neurological practice, most AEDs should be started at a low dosage and gradually titrated upwards. Starting dosages are similar in most types of epilepsy; however, if a rapid onset of therapeutic action is required, phenytoin, phenobarbital (phenobarbitone), levetiracetam and gabapentin are probably the best tolerated AEDs for starting at full dosage. The initial target maintenance dosage of an AED should be based on the dose-response profile of the drug, and on specific patient characteristics. Usually, the lowest effective daily dose expected to provide seizure control should be used, although various factors (e.g. stage and severity of epilepsy, pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic considerations, attitude of the patient) will markedly influence dosage selection. If seizures are not controlled on the initial target dose, the dosage should be increased gradually until complete seizure control is achieved or intolerable adverse effects occur. In most patients who fail to respond to the initially prescribed drug, switching to another AED (monotherapy) is the best option. Combination therapy may be appropriate for patients unresponsive to 2 or more sequential monotherapies. Therapeutic drug monitoring (measurement of serum drug concentrations) is useful in various settings, such as when drug interactions are expected, toxicity is suspected, or when AEDs with nonlinear pharmacokinetics (e.g. phenytoin, carbamazepine) are used. No indications currently exist for routine therapeutic drug monitoring of the newer AEDs. In summary, dosage regimens of AEDs should be assessed regularly, and adjusted if necessary, so that patients can derive optimal therapeutic benefit. For patients considered 'difficult to treat' (i.e. those in whom seizures remain incompletely controlled after several attempts at treatment), referral to a specialist is recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-621
Number of pages13
JournalCNS Drugs
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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