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A breakthrough seizure is an epileptic seizure that occurs, despite the use of anticonvulsants that have otherwise successfully prevented seizures in the patient.[1] Breakthrough seizures may be more dangerous than non-breakthrough seizures because they may be less expected by the patient, who already considered him/herself free from seizures and therefore, not take any precautions.[2]

Epileptics with a higher intensity of seizures are more likely to suffer from a breakthrough seizure.[3]

Often when a breakthrough seizure occurs in an epileptic whose seizures have always been well-controlled, there is a new underlying cause to the seizure.[4]



Causes of a breakthrough seizure may include:

  • Missed dose of an anticonvulsant. This is the most common cause, and it may even result in status epilepticus. In some patients, even a single missed dose may be responsible for a breakthrough seizure.[5]
  • Incorrectly timed dose: This may occur, for example, if a patient takes a dose a little later than s/he should. Also, a patient traveling across time zone lines may alter their medicating schedule, resulting in interference with the therapeutic effects of the drug[6]
  • Incorrect dosage amount: A patient may be receiving a sub-therapeuic level of the anticonvulsant[7]
  • Switching medicines: This may include sudden withdrawal of an anticonvulsant without replacing it at all, or to switch abruptly to another anticonvulsant. In some cases, switching from brand to the generic version of the same medicine may induce a breakthrough seizure.[8][9]
  • Sleep Deprivation: Failure to get enough restorative sleep in some patients may result in a seizure.[10] This will often be the patient's only change in routine prior to a seizure.[11]
  • Stress[12]
  • Alcohol or drug use by people with epilepsy.[13][14] Even consumption of caffeine can result in a seizure in some.[15]
  • Some over-the-counter drugs in some patients[16]
  • Menstruation in women of childbearing age.[17] This may be the result of hormonal fluctuation or over-the-counter drugs that are used to treat symptoms of menstruation.[18]
  • Acute illness: Some illnesses caused by viruses or bacteria may lead to a seizure in epileptics. Especially when vomiting or diarrhea occur, this may reduce the absorption of the anticonvulsant.[19]
  • Malnutrition: May be the result of poor dietary habits, lack of access to proper nourishment, or fasting.[20]
  • In seizures that are controlled by diet in children, a child may break from the diet on their own.[21]


Rates of breakthrough seizures vary. Studies have shown the rates of breakthrough seizures ranging from 11-37%.[22]


The treatment for a breakthrough seizure involves measuring the level of the anticonvulsant in the patient's system, and may include increasing the dosage of the existing medication, adding another medication in addition to the existing one, or altogether switching medications.[23]

One who suffers a breakthrough seizure when s/he is not known to have them may require hospitalization for a period of time for observation.[24]

See also


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  9. ^$=activity
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