Epilepsy, bipolar drug Lamictal linked to brain inflammation

Consumer Reports News: August 13, 2010 09:59 AM

If you or somebody you care for takes the anticonvulsant drug lamotrigine (Lamictal and generic), you should be aware that in rare cases it can cause inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, a serious condition known as aseptic meningitis. The Food and Drug Administration warned of this new side effect Thursday. Lamotrigine is approved for treating epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

The meningitis side effect is extremely rare—40 cases over a 15 year period, according to the FDA. It's also not life-threatening and resolves once lamotrigine is stopped. So, if you're already taking this drug and doing well on it, there's no reason to stop or switch (if you are taking it for epilepsy, abruptly stopping could increase the risk for a seizure). But you and your physician should be aware of the possibility of meningitis occurring, so the drug can be discontinued immediately if you develop signs of the condition.

The symptoms of aseptic meningitis include headache, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, drowsiness, and confusion. The condition is diagnosed by examining the fluid from a spinal tap. If you develop any of symptoms while taking lamotrigine, you should contact your doctor immediately.

And as we note in our Best Buy Drugs report, lamotrigine has also been linked to other serious side effects, including life-threatening rashes, such as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, and rare cases of hypersensitivity that have led to multi-organ failure and death.

The FDA said it identified 40 cases of aseptic meningitis in people taking Lamictal since the drug first hit the market in December 1994 through November 2009. In most cases, the condition resolved when Lamictal was discontinued. But 35 of the 40 people had to be hospitalized. And in 15 cases, symptoms recurred when the drug was restarted, often more severely than before.

To learn more about anticonvulsants, check out our free Best Buy Drugs report.

Steve Mitchell, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health Best Buy Drugs

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Image: Wikipedia

Aaron Bailey

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