Anticonvulsant Dilantin Use Linked to Cerebral Atrophy

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Dilantin has been used since 1938 as an anticonvulsive drug that works by slowing down brain impulses that cause tonic-clonic seizures (formerly called grand mal seizures), and epilepsy. However, in recent research, long-term use and higher dosage levels of Dilantin has been linked to cerebellar atrophy, or shrinking of certain parts of the brain and a loss of neurons and the connections between them inside the brain.

Dilantin (phenytoin) when used over the long term, and use is above the therapeutic range, patients have an increased risk of developing some sort of cerebral atrophy. The anti-seizure medication is also prescribed off-label for conditions including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What is Cerebellar Atrophy?

Cerebellar atrophy (atrophy of the brain) is a degeneration of the cerebellum which can affect voluntary movement, such as balance, posture, coordination, and speech. The cerebellum sits under the cerebrum, behind the brain stem and is divided into two hemispheres. Additional signs of cerebellar atrophy may be slurred speech, slow, jerky movements in the extremities, unsteady walking, and nystagmus (small, rapid eye movements). The symptoms of cerebellar atrophy are comparable and may be confused with those of a stroke.

The cerebellum consists of two ping pong-ball-sized portions of folded tissue at the base of the brain near the brainstem. The right side of the cerebellum controls coordination on the right side of the body, the left side of the cerebellum controls coordination on the left. As the cerebellum plays a role in some types of thinking, ataxia may cause cognitive and mood problems. Patients may have difficulty with so-called executive functions such as making plans or keeping their thoughts in order. In some cases, patients taking Dilantin have reported symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, or depression.

When Dilantin use is stopped, it is possible to recover from cerebellar atrophy or degeneration. Physicians should monitor the cessation of Dilantin use. Some symptoms may not be reversed such as muscle coordination.

National law firm Parker Waichman LLP has extensive experience and success in representing clients in pharmaceutical litigation. Attorneys at the firm are available to answer questions for any individuals seeking legal information for a potential lawsuit.

What is a Tonic-Clonic Seizure?

A tonic-clonic seizure typically begins on both sides of the brain, but can start in one side and spread to the whole brain. A person loses consciousness, muscles stiffen, and jerking movements are visible. These kinds of seizures usually last one to three minutes. The seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity throughout the brain. Most of the time, the tonic-clonic seizure is caused by epilepsy, but in some cases, this type of seizure is triggered by other health problems, such as extremely low blood sugar, high fever or a stroke, according to Lifescript.com.

Research to Examine Dilantin Link to Cerebellar Atrophy

In 2002, a study was published that attempted to clear up the question whether cerebellar atrophy was a brain side effect of Dilantin, epilepsy itself, or possibly related to both factors. Researchers studied the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) records of 56 epilepsy patients who had been taking Dilantin. Over 35 of these patients exhibited signs of cerebellar atrophy in their MRIs. The only significant factor connected with cerebellar atrophy was the length of time the patient had been taking Dilantin.

The conclusion reached by the researchers was that although the duration of the patient’s epilepsy was an influence, that factor was less significant than how long the patient had been using Dilantin. Even if a patient achieves good control of epilepsy symptoms by using Dilantin, the significant side effects should be weighed against the benefits.

Some Allergic or Adverse Reactions to Dilantin

Emergency medical help should be sought if any signs of an allergic reaction to Dilantin appear such as hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat. If there are any new or worsening symptoms such as mood or behavior changes, depression, anxiety, agitation, hostility, hyperactivity (mental or physical), or thoughts about suicide, medical help should be sought, according to Rx.list.com.

Elderly patients have an increased risk of Dilantin toxicity, which puts them at an increased risk of complications and side effects of Dilantin on the brain. Some of these individuals may use additional medication to treat abnormal heart rhythms, alcoholism, ulcers, and tuberculosis, all of which may increase the possibility of toxicity.

Dilantin is a powerful drug, and even a small increase in dosage may cause toxicity. It is of vital importance for patients to take the medication only as recommended.

Legal Information and Advice for Dilantin Users

Attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are highly experienced in drug injury lawsuits. If you or someone you know has been negatively affected by Dilantin, contact Parker Waichman for a free, no-obligation case evaluation. We urge you to contact us at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).