Conference Coverage

How often is AED treatment delayed for patients with epilepsy?



More than 30% of patients with newly diagnosed epilepsy do not initiate antiepileptic drug (AED) treatment at the time of diagnosis, according to an Australian study presented at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society. Most untreated patients begin an AED after experiencing subsequent seizures, however.

“The decision to start or withhold treatment reflects the complex interplay between factors perceived to influence the predicted risk of seizure recurrence, which remain imprecise, and personal factors,” said lead study author Zhibin Chen, PhD, a biostatistician at the University of Melbourne and colleagues.

Many patients with epilepsy in resource-poor countries may not receive AED therapy for socioeconomic reasons, but little is known about untreated epilepsy in high-income countries. To assess the extent of and reasons for patients not receiving AEDs when treatment is accessible and affordable, Dr. Chen and colleagues prospectively recruited adult patients who attended the first-seizure clinics of publicly funded hospitals in Western Australia between May 1, 1999, and May 31, 2016. The patients had new-onset seizures and were referred by primary care or emergency department physicians. The health care system provided universal coverage for patients’ hospital admissions, outpatient visits, investigations, and treatment.

The researchers identified patients with newly diagnosed epilepsy and reviewed medical records to determine the proportion of untreated patients and the reasons for not starting treatment at each follow-up visit. The investigators compared the sociodemographic factors, neuroimaging, and EEG findings of treated and untreated patients.

In all, 1,317 people attended the clinics during the study period, and 610 patients (61% male; median age, 40) received a diagnosis of epilepsy and met 2014 International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) diagnostic criteria for epilepsy. Patients were followed for a median of 5.7 years.

Of the 610 patients with epilepsy, 31% did not start AED treatment at the time of diagnosis – 16.4% because the neurologist did not recommend treatment and 14.6% because the patient declined treatment despite a neurologist’s recommendation to start therapy.

Patients’ reasons for not starting treatment included doubts about the need for treatment or about the epilepsy diagnosis, as well as concerns about medication side effects. Neurologists’ reasons for not beginning treatment included a patient having only one seizure and awaiting further results. The presence of seizure-precipitating factors (e.g., flashing lights, sleep deprivation, stress, or alcohol use) was another reason that patients and neurologists commonly cited for not initiating treatment.

Among the 189 initially untreated patients, 62.4% started treatment after a median delay of 95 days, “mainly after further seizures,” the investigators said. Patients with epilepsy who were older, from lower socioeconomic areas, had experienced more seizures, or had epileptogenic lesions on neuroimaging were more likely to initiate AED treatment at diagnosis.

“The percentage of people who were not initially prescribed AEDs was much higher than expected and suggests that untreated epilepsy exists not just in resource-poor, but also in wealthy countries,” said Dr. Chen.

More research is needed to assess the long-term outcomes of patient with seizure-precipitating factors who initiate AEDs immediately, compared with those who try avoidance of precipitating factors alone, said Dr. Chen.

This study was supported by a grant from UCB Pharma.

SOURCE: Chen Z et al. AES 2018, Abstract 3.421.

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