Dilantin and Brain Toxicity

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

The drug Dilantin (phenytoin), prescribed to control seizures, can have debilitating adverse effects on those who take it.

Some of Dilantin’s side effects are related to the dosage of the medicine or to the length of time the patient has been taking it. Patients may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting and constipation; some experience dizziness, drowsiness, nervousness or trouble sleeping.

Dilantin Toxicity

Dilantin (phenytoin) has proven effective in controlling seizures for many people. The drug is also prescribed off-label for conditions including bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Phenytoin works by interrupting the neurons in the brain, which slows the electrical impulses that cause seizures, but when too many of these neurons are interrupted, the result can lead to adverse effects.

The drug-injury attorneys at Parker Waichman are available to answer questions from individuals who are considering filing a Dilantin side effects lawsuit.

Dilantin can accumulate in the cerebral cortex and cause the serious and potentially devastating side effect, cerebellar atrophy: the shrinking and loss of neurons and neuronal connections in the cerebellum. The degree of toxicity is related to the length of time the person has been taking Dilantin and the drug reaching levels higher than the therapeutic range. But cerebellar atrophy has also been seen when the drug is within therapeutic range. Elderly patients are at greater risk of Dilantin toxicity. People taking medications for abnormal heart rhythms, alcoholism, ulcers and tuberculosis also face increased risk of Dilantin toxicity.

Cerebellar Atrophy

The cerebellum is an area of the brain important to the control of movement and coordination. Posture, balance, coordination and speech can all be affected by cerebellar atrophy. Someone experiencing cerebellar atrophy might have a swaying or stumbling walk, even appearing to be drunk. A person with Dilantin-induced cerebellar atrophy symptoms will no longer be able to sit on the edge of a bed because of an uncontrollable bobbing motion of the trunk or head.

In addition to uncoordinated movements, cerebellar atrophy symptoms can include:

  • clumsiness with daily activities
  • difficulty walking (unsteadiness)
  • slurred speech
  • visual complaints
  • abnormal eye movements

Cerebellar atrophy can affect the ability to perform everyday tasks that need fine motor coordination like preparing food or getting dressed. Speech and swallowing may also be impaired. The cerebellum plays a role in certain types of thinking, and cerebellar atrophy can cause cognitive and mood problems. Patients can have problems with “executive functions” like making plans. Dilantin users have reported irritability, anxiety, or depression.

Phenytoin a Toxin to the Cerebellum

Cerebellar atrophy can be caused by strokes, multiple sclerosis, tumors, cysts and toxins. Dilantin can be a toxin to the cerebellum. Though seizures themselves can cause brain atrophy, a 1994 study allowed for this when observing patients who took Dilantin and those who did not. The cerebellums of those who took Dilantin were much smaller than the cerebellums of patients who did not take Dilantin.

Anyone taking Dilantin who has experienced the side effects described here should contact a doctor immediately. There is no specific treatment for cerebellar toxicity or the resulting ataxia (movement problems). When ataxia is caused by a viral infection, it often clears up on its own over time. But when ataxia arises from cerebellar atrophy as a Dilantin side effect, stopping the medication may alleviate some symptoms but may not eliminate them entirely.

Additional Dilantin Side Effects

Dilantin is one of the drugs associated with the serious allergic skin reactions Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). StevensJohnson syndrome begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by a painful red or purplish rash that spreads and blisters. When the affected skin sheds, it exposes underlying tissues to potential infection and further compounds the condition. Stevens-Johnson is estimated to be fatal in 30 percent of cases. If Stevens-Johnson progresses to affect more than 30 percent of the body surface area, it is then considered to be toxic epidermal necrolysis.

The Mayo Clinic says Dilantin has been linked with the serious and life-threatening condition called Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms (DRESS). Dilantin can cause liver damage, and can lower the number of white blood cells in the blood, increasing the chance of infection. In addition, the drug can lower the number of platelets, which are necessary for proper blood clotting.

Legal Help for Dilantin Side Effects

If you have taken Dilantin and have developed brain atrophy, Stevens-Johnson syndrome or other side effects, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can help evaluate your legal rights. For a free, no obligation case evaluation, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).