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Bromide, the first effective antiepileptic agent
  1. J M S Pearce
  1. 304 Beverley Road, Anlaby, Hull HU10 7BG, UK: jmspearce@freenet.co.uk

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    The 2001 issue of the British National Formulary contains many antiepileptic agents listed under some 10 classes of anticonvulsants. Historically there had been no effective new antiepileptic drugs until the introduction of phenobarbitone. Hauptmann (1881–1948) in 19121 discovered its antiepileptic properties by accident when studying the anxiolytic effects of various drugs. Before that date, the only effective agent was potassium bromide, and like its more recent successors, the major therapeutic problem was obtaining a balance between suppressing fits and the frequent side effects .

    At a meeting of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society in London on Tuesday 11 May 1857, Edward H Sieveking presented 52 cases of epilepsy (Lancet 1857;i:528). In the subsequent discussion, the President of the Society, Sir Charles Locock, Queen Victoria's physician accoucheur, made comment. He had used potassium bromide to treat what he called hysterical epilepsy. In most instances the fits were mainly menstrual or catamenial or uterine as they were called. Locock cited a German report that 10 grains (0.66 g) of potassium bromide taken three times a day caused reversible impotence. Locock therefore tried bromide on non-epileptic hysterical women troubled by “sexual excitement”, and found that it calmed that excitement. The report in the Medical Times and Gazette of 23 May 1857 (cited by (Bazire 18822) noted:

    “ . . .a lady who had hysterical epilepsy for nine …

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