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Are medication side effects affecting our ability to think straight?

Photo: Temari 09 via Flickr

When it comes to epilepsy, relief from seizures often arrives in the form of the FDA-approved drug topiramate. This drug acts in the brain to prevent seizure activity and in doing so, alters how the brain functions. In some patients, these alterations can produce undesirable effects on cognition.

While patients with epilepsy might be willing to accept a few adverse side effects in return for seizure relief, the effects on cognition are less tolerable for patients who take topiramate for other purposes.

Topiramate is FDA-approved solely for migraine and seizure relief, but is prescribed for a variety of conditions, such as borderline personality disorder, alcoholism, obesity and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patients taking the drug for conditions other than epilepsy may decide to stop taking the drug if it interferes with everyday functioning.

Susan Marino, Ph.D., director of the Center for Clinical and Cognitive Neuropharmacology at the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy, is investigating how topiramate and other drugs impact our thought processes.

“Speech and language are echoes of our thought processes. Not only what we say, but also how we say it, can point to a wealth of information about our physiological and mental states,” said Marino. “It is clear that many medications, even some you wouldn’t suspect, put a dent in the ability to express our thoughts.”

In studies made possible by a recent $2.76 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, Marino and her team are currently working to characterize and predict drug effects on cognition as reflected in speech and language.

The aim of her research is to predict how an individual patient’s thinking might be affected by commonly used medications.

“If drugs like topiramate can truly help alleviate conditions other than epilepsy, we want to find out how we can individually tailor the use of that drug so we get all of the positive benefits without the negative ones also altering our ability to think clearly and speak fluently.”

Now that’s one message coming through loud and clear.

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