October 26, 2020

Is there a difference between refractory, uncontrolled, intractable and drug resistant epilepsy?

About Epilepsy

What do the terms refractory, uncontrolled, intractable and drug resistant epilepsy mean? Find out in the Epsy health blog.

If epilepsy medication doesn’t seem to work for you, you might have heard your treatment team use words like:

- Refractory
- Intractable
- Drug resistant (pharmacoresistant)
- Uncontrolled

What do they mean by these terms?

4 terms, 1 meaning

These terms essentially mean the same thing.

Doctors may call your epilepsy uncontrolled, intractable, refractory or drug resistant if you keep having seizures after trying two or more medications. This includes when the medication reduces seizures but do not prevent them entirely.

About one third of people with epilepsy find that drugs alone do not help. And very often, doctors don’t know why it happens

There are alternatives

Traditionally, the goal of therapy was just seizure freedom.  Recently, treatment goals have evolved to include improved quality of life with a greater focus on helping people live a lifestyle consistent with their abilities. So, if drugs aren’t working for you, speak to your medical team about alternative treatments such as surgery, diets or implantable devices which go under the skin on your chest or in your brain.