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Seizure. 2002 Mar;11(2):77-84.

Refractory epilepsy: a progressive, intractable but preventable condition?

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  • 1Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine & Geriatrics, United Christian Hospital, Kwun Tong, Hong Kong, China.


Intractable seizures are just one manifestation of 'refractory epilepsy', which can be recognized as a distinct condition with multifaceted dimensions, including neurobiochemical plastic changes, cognitive decline and psychosocial dysfunction, leading to dependent behaviour and a restricted lifestyle. The biological basis of 'refractoriness' is likely to be multifactorial, and may include the severity of the syndrome and/or underlying neuropathology, abnormal reorganization of neuronal circuitry, alteration in neurotransmitter receptors, ion channelopathies, reactive autoimmunity, and impaired antiepileptic drug (AED) penetration to the seizure focus. Some of these deleterious changes may be a consequence of recurrent seizures. We hypothesize that 'refractory epilepsy' may be prevented by interrupting this self-perpetuating progression. There is increasing evidence that these patients can be identified early in the clinical course and, thus, be targeted early for effective therapeutic intervention. Failure of two first-line AEDs due to lack of efficacy or poor tolerability should prompt consideration of epilepsy surgery in a patient with a resectable brain abnormality. For the majority not suitable for 'curative' surgery, AEDs should be combined with the aim of achieving 'synergism'. This strategy has the potential to improve outcome by preventing the insidious progression to intractable 'refractoriness' and a downward spiraling quality of life.

Copyright 2002 BEA Trading Ltd. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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