Psychiatric and behavioral side effects of antiepileptic drugs in adults with epilepsy

Baibing Chen, Hyunmi Choi, Lawrence J. Hirsch, Austen Katz, Alexander Legge, Richard Buchsbaum, Kamil Detyniecki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Purpose Psychiatric and behavioral side effects (PBSEs) are common, undesirable effects associated with antiepileptic drug (AED) use. The objective of the study was to compare the PBSE profiles of older and newer AEDs in a large specialty practice-based sample of patients diagnosed with epilepsy. Methods As part of the Columbia and Yale AED Database Project, we reviewed patient records including demographics, medical history, AED use, and side effects for 4085 adult patients (age: 18 years) newly started on an AED regimen. Psychiatric and behavioral side effects were determined by patient or physician report in the medical record, which included depressive mood, psychosis, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, irritability, aggression, and tantrum. Significant non-AED predictors of PBSE rate were first determined from 83 variables using logistic regression. Predictors were then controlled for in the comparison analysis of the rate of PBSEs and intolerable PBSEs (PBSEs that led to dosage reduction or discontinuation) between 18 AEDs. Results Psychiatric and behavioral side effects occurred in 17.2% of patients and led to intolerability in 13.8% of patients. History of psychiatric condition(s), secondary generalized seizures, absence seizures, and intractable epilepsy were associated with increased incidence of PBSE. Levetiracetam (LEV) had the greatest PBSE rate (22.1%). This was statistically significant when compared with the aggregate of the other AEDs (P < 0.001, OR = 6.87). Levetiracetam was also significantly (P < 0.001) associated with higher intolerability rate (17.7%), dose decreased rate (9.4%), and complete cessation rate (8.3%), when compared with the aggregate of the other AEDs. Zonisamide (ZNS) was also significantly associated with a higher rate of PBSE (9.7%) and IPBSE (7.9%, all P < 0.001). On the other hand, carbamazepine (CBZ), clobazam (CLB), gabapentin (GBP), lamotrigine (LTG), oxcarbazepine (OXC), phenytoin (PHT), and valproate (VPA) were significantly associated with a decreased PBSE rates (P < 0.001). Carbamazepine, GBP, LTG, PHT, and VPA were also associated with lower IPBSE rates when compared individually with the aggregate of other AEDs. All other AEDs were found to have intermediate rates that were not either increased or decreased compared with other AEDs. When each AED was compared to LTG, only CBZ had a significantly lower PBSE rate. The main limitations of this study were that the study design was retrospective and not blinded, and the AEDs were not randomly assigned to patients. Conclusions Psychiatric and behavioral side effects occur more frequently in patients taking LEV and ZNS than any other AED and led to higher rates of intolerability. Lower PBSE rates were seen in patients taking CBZ, CLB, GBP, LTG, OXC, PHT, and VPA. Our findings may help facilitate the AED selection process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-31
Number of pages8
JournalEpilepsy and Behavior
StatePublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Antiepileptic drug
  • Comparison
  • Epilepsy
  • Intolerability
  • Predictor
  • Psychiatric behavioral side effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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