Alzheimer's disease patients using antiepileptics were found to have double the risk of pneumonia compared to non-users and the risk was highest in the early phase, remained high even in long-term use, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Of the specific drugs, phenytoin, carbamazepine, valproic acid and pregabalin were associated with an increased risk of pneumonia. Relatively few - less than 10 per cent - of the antiepileptic users had been diagnosed with epilepsy and thus, it is likely that many used these drugs for other indications, such as neuropathic pain and behavioral symptoms of dementia. Some antiepileptic drugs have sedative effects which may explain the associated risk of pneumonia.
This was the first study investigating antiepileptic use and the risk of pneumonia among persons with Alzheimer's disease. A previous study assessed the risk among younger adults and did not find a risk increase.
The study was based on the nationwide register-based MEDALZ study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland. For this study, 5,769 community-dwelling persons diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease who initiated antiepileptic drug use in Finland were included and compared with matched non-users of these drugs.