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New Epilepsy Drug Helps Toughest Cases

Keppra Eases Symptoms in Both Children and Adults

WebMD Health News

Oct. 11, 2002 -- A new drug may help prevent seizures and reduce other symptoms in children with epilepsy even after other treatments have become ineffective. New research shows adding the drug Keppra to conventional anti-epileptic medications can reduce frequency of seizures by more than 80%.

The FDA approved Keppra for use in adults as a secondary treatment for epilepsy in 1999. But a new study presented today at the Child Neurology Society meeting suggests that Keppra may also be effective as a first-line treatment for children who do not respond to traditional therapies.

About 2 million people in the U.S. suffer from epilepsy, a neurological condition that causes disruptions in brain electrical function. These disturbances, known as seizures, lead to symptoms such as loss of consciousness, muscle spasms, or shaking.

Epilepsy can strike at any age, but most cases develop before age 25. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about a half million children under age 18 in the U.S. suffer from epilepsy.

Although several effective anti-epileptic medications are available, in many cases sufferers develop resistance to the drugs or the treatments produce unwanted side effects. Often, people with epilepsy are prescribed several medications at once to reduce the frequency of seizures. But even so, researchers say more than 30% of epilepsy patients have inadequate seizure control with their current drug therapy.

"Since childhood-onset epilepsy is difficult to treat, physicians can spend years attempting to achieve seizure control in their patients, using many different medications, even into young adulthood," says researcher Michael Hemphill, MD, in a news release.

"With the addition of Keppra, we have witnessed a dramatic reduction in seizures, and that makes it a welcome addition to our treatment options," says Hemphill, a neurologist at the Memorial Health Georgia Neurological Institute and associate clinical professor of neurology at Medical College of Georgia.

The study examined the effectiveness of the drug in 73 patients with an average age of 10 years who had epilepsy that had begun in childhood. At the start of the study the participants averaged more than nine seizures a week. Following three months of treatment with Keppra in addition to their current therapy, that number dropped by 52%, to an average of 4.5 seizures a week.

After about 16 months of follow-up, the average seizure frequency in patients treated with Keppra was reduced by 88%. Side effects included drowsiness or dizziness, and two patients reported aggressive behavior.

Researchers say the drug was well-tolerated and effective in about 90% of the patients studied.

They also found that use of Keppra allowed the patients to reduce the total number of anti-epileptic drugs they took to manage their symptoms from an average of about three medications at the start of the study to two after the 16-month follow-up period. -->

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