Nearly three of five children with newly diagnosed epilepsy do not take their antiepileptic medications as prescribed over the first six months of therapy, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.
Children from the poorest families in the study were least likely to take their medications as directed, the researchers said.
Only 42 percent of children who were newly diagnosed with the brain disorder took their medications as prescribed.
Adults with epilepsy who skip doses of their medication are more prone to seizures and have higher health costs and a higher risk of dying from their disease.
The lead researcher on the children's study said it is not clear if the same applies to children, but the potential consequences are worrisome.
"This study suggests the need to work with families of children with epilepsy to identify and remove barriers to taking medications early in the course of therapy," Avani Modi of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said in a statement.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that affects 325,000 children in the United States under 15. It can cause recurring seizures, in which brain cells send out faulty signals, causing sometimes violent muscle spasms and loss of consciousness.
There is no cure, but medications can prevent seizures when taken properly. Common treatments include divalproex sodium, the generic version of Abbott Laboratories anti-seizure drug Depakote, and Trileptal sold by Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG.
Modi, who has been a consultant for Novartis, conducted the study among 124 newly diagnosed children and their caregivers treated at Cincinnati Children's.
Caregivers were given the medication in a bottle with a cap that kept track of when it was opened. Families were asked to remove medication only when they gave it to their children.
The researchers said it was not clear whether lower socioeconomic status meant families could not afford their child's medications, or if they were simply more likely to forget to give the medication to their child.
"While it is not possible for clinicians to change the socioeconomic situation of families, this finding suggests the need to recognize that lack of financial resources places children with epilepsy at risk of nonadherence," Modi and colleagues wrote.
The research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
In September, Novartis pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $422.5 million to settle criminal and civil charges of improperly marketing its Trileptal for unapproved uses.