Evidence-Based Reviews

Antipsychotics and seizures: What are the risks?

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Regarding a possible association between clozapine dose or clozapine plasma levels and seizure risk, there is a positive linear relationship between the dose of clozapine and its serum concentration over a dosing range of 25 to 800 mg/d.50 However, the plasma concentration is also significantly affected by factors such as smoking, gender, age, drug interactions, and CYP genotypes. Therefore, the same clozapine dose will yield a lower serum concentration in an older male who smokes compared with a younger, non-smoking female.51 Perry et al52 suggested a dosing nomogram to calculate the influence of gender and smoking. Seizure risk, especially for tonic-clonic seizures, has been reported to increase with clozapine doses >600 mg/d,53 and with plasma concentrations exceeding 1,000 to 1,300 mg/L.54 However, in a 2011 regression analysis, Varma et al55 found no statistically significant relationship between seizure risk and clozapine oral dose; there was not enough data to test a correlation between clozapine plasma levels and the incidence of seizures.

How antipsychotics might lower the seizure threshold

Researchers have suggested several possible mechanisms to explain how antipsychotics might lower the seizure threshold. Antagonism of dopamine D4, histamine H1, and acetylcholine-muscarinic receptors seems to induce EEG alterations and increase the risk of seizures.56 Additionally, modulation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate and the gamma-aminobutyric acid pathways might also be implicated.57,58 Certain brain regions upon which antipsychotics act (eg, the hippocampus and the amygdala) might be associated with a higher susceptibility to convulsions compared with cortical regions.59,60 Another mechanism described in epilepsy is “kindling,” which consists of a progressive increase in brain excitability after repeated administration of a fixed subconvulsive dose of an excitatory agent; clozapine is believed to have a higher “kindling” activity compared with other antipsychotics.59,60 Overall, these proposed mechanisms remain speculative.57

Watch for pharmacokinetic interactions

The CYP enzymes involved in drug metabolism include CYP1A2, CYP2C9, CYP2C19, CYP2D6, and CYP3A4. Most commonly used antiepileptics and antipsychotics are metabolized by CYP enzymes, and may also act as inhibitors or inducers of these enzymes.61 Drug interactions may impair seizure control, which is why monotherapy is preferable to combination treatment in patients with epilepsy.62 Carbamazepine and phenytoin are inducers of both CYP1A2 (which metabolizes olanzapine and clozapine), and CYP3A4 (which metabolizes haloperidol, risperidone, quetiapine, ziprasidone and clozapine). Paliperidone is not metabolized by CYP enzymes.62 Discontinuing an enzyme-inducing agent may result in increased antipsychotic plasma concentrations, which might lead to an increased risk of seizures.

Valproic acid, which is often used to prevent or treat clozapine-induced seizures, has an unclear effect on clozapine plasma concentrations.63 Although valproic acid is known to inhibit clozapine metabolism, 2 reports have suggested that the plasma concentrations of clozapine and its metabolites may decrease after adding valproic acid.64,65 Other studies have found that valproic acid increases plasma concentrations of clozapine while it decreases plasma concentrations of norclozapine; norclozapine is the main clozapine metabolite responsible for inducing seizures.66,67

Steps for minimizing seizure risk

Determining the seizure risk for a patient taking an antipsychotic is challenging because doing so depends not only on the seizurogenic potential of each drug but also on individualized predisposing factors.11,57,68 Choosing the “best” antipsychotic therefore largely depends on each patient’s profile. The predisposing factors consist mainly of the individually inherited seizure threshold (personal history of febrile convulsions or a family history of seizures) and other comorbid seizurogenic conditions, such as a history of head trauma, brain injury, intellectual disability, cerebral arteriosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, encephalopathy, chronic renal insufficiency, and hyponatremia. Furthermore, seizure risk depends on the antipsychotic dose administered and the rate of titration.11

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