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Nancy R. Temkin, Sureyya S. Dikmen, Gail D. Anderson, Alan J. Wilensky, Mark D. Holmes, Wendy Cohen, David W. Newell, Pamela Nelson, Asaad Awan, and H. Richard Winn

Object. Seizures frequently accompany moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. Phenytoin and carbamazepine are effective in preventing early, but not late, posttraumatic seizures. In this study the authors compare the safety and effectiveness of valproate with those of short-term phenytoin for prevention of seizures following traumatic brain injury.

Methods. The study was a randomized, double-blind, single-center, parallel-group clinical trial. Treatment began within 24 hours of injury. One hundred thirty-two patients at high risk for seizures were assigned to receive a 1-week course of phenytoin, 120 were assigned to receive a 1-month course of valproate, and 127 were assigned to receive a 6-month course of valproate. The cases were followed for up to 2 years.

The rates of early seizures were low and similar when using either valproate or phenytoin (1.5% in the phenytoin treatment group and 4.5% in the valproate arms of the study; p = 0.14, relative risk [RR] = 2.9, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.7–13.3). The rates of late seizures did not differ among treatment groups (15% in patients receiving the 1-week course of phenytoin, 16% in patients receiving the 1-month course of valproate, and 24% in those receiving the 6-month course of valproate; p = 0.19, RR = 1.4, 95% CI 0.8–2.4). The rates of mortality were not significantly different between treatment groups, but there was a trend toward a higher mortality rate in patients treated with valproate (7.2% in patients receiving phenytoin and 13.4% in those receiving valproate; p = 0.07, RR = 2.0, 95% CI 0.9–4.1). The incidence of serious adverse events, including coagulation problems and liver abnormalities, was similar in phenytoin- and valproate-treated patients.

Conclusions. Valproate therapy shows no benefit over short-term phenytoin therapy for prevention of early seizures and neither treatment prevents late seizures. There was a trend toward a higher mortality rate among valproate-treated patients. The lack of additional benefit and the potentially higher mortality rate suggest that valproate should not be routinely used for the prevention of posttraumatic seizures.