Treatment of depression in patients with epilepsy

Katherine H. Noe, Dona E.C. Locke, Joseph I. Sirven

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


In this article, we review the current best evidence for the treatment of depression in patients with epilepsy. Depression is a common epilepsy comorbidity, but it is often unrecognized. The most important step in appropriately managing mood disorders in this population is making the diagnosis. Clinical vigilance and routine use of a validated screening tool can improve detection and quality of care. As is increasingly the case for the general population, persons with epilepsy are often interested in exploring alternative therapies for chronic conditions, including depression. Unfortunately, the benefit of complementary and alternative therapies for depression currently is largely unproven for persons with a seizure history, although an early study of exercise for mild depression has shown some benefit. Concerns about drug interactions, side effects, and expense may be barriers to the prescription of antidepressant medications for people requiring chronic antiepileptic drug (AED) therapy. For this reason, use of an AED with mood-stabilizing properties has appeal and may be appropriate for selected individuals with mild depressive symptoms. Undue fear of lowering seizure threshold should not preclude the prescription of an antidepressant medication, as the perceived risks are often overestimated and rarely outweigh the risk of leaving depression untreated. At present, the best evidence for efficacy and safety support the use of citalopram, sertraline, or mirtazapine as initial pharmacotherapy, whereas bupropion should be avoided. Start low, go slow, and use the lowest effective dose. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a valuable adjunct to antidepressant therapy in this population. For people with refractory partial epilepsy and refractory depression, vagus nerve stimulation has some appeal, in that it may be beneficial for both conditions, but the efficacy of vagus nerve stimulation in improving mood in patients with epilepsy remains unclear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-379
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Treatment Options in Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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