Prophylactic Anticonvulsants After Neurosurgery


Address correspondence to Nancy R. Temkin, Ph.D., University of Washington Box 359924, 325 Ninth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104. E-mail:


Six prospective, controlled trials have examined the effects of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) given to prevent the occurrence of seizures following neurosurgery. Some studies have concentrated on specific reasons for the neurosurgery (brain tumor) while others have included people with a variety of indications for surgery. Phenytoin (PHT) has been studied most, but carbamazepine (CBZ) and phenobarbital (PB) have also been evaluated to some extent. Studies of people with traumatic brain injury (some of whom were operated on) provide some, but less direct, evidence of the prophylactic effects of AEDs after neurosurgery. Despite considerable variation in reasons for the neurosurgery, AEDs given, and study design, the overall conclusions are remarkably consistent. The seizure risk is reduced about 40%–50% for the first week after neurosurgery in those given the older AEDs compared with those given placebo or no treatment. After the first few weeks, none of the drugs has been proven to reduce the incidence of seizures and in most situations the best estimate is essentially no effect, but effects on the order of a 25%–50% reduction in late (epileptic) seizures cannot be ruled out. The new generation of AEDs have not been tested as prophylactic agents after neurosurgery. Although there are no guidelines for prophylaxis following neurosurgery in general, these results are consistent with the guidelines of professional organizations for subsets of neurosurgery cases. Those guidelines consider prophylaxis, especially using PHT, to be an option for the first week after surgery but that the routine use of prophylactic anticonvulsants after the first week is not warranted.