Abnormalities in cardiac and respiratory function observed during seizures in childhood

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2005 Jan;47(1):4-9. doi: 10.1017/s0012162205000022.


The aim of this study was to observe any changes in cardiac and respiratory function that occur during seizures. Thirty-seven children (20 males, 17 females; median age 7y 6mo, range 1y 6mo to 15y 6mo) were studied. We recorded electroencephalograms, respiratory rate, heart rate, electrocardiograms, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart rate variability (time domain analysis), and cardiac vagal tone. A respiratory pause was defined as an interruption in respiration lasting more than 3s but less than 15s. Apnoea was defined as absence of respiration for more than 15s. Tachypnoea was defined as a 10% increase in respiratory rate from the pre-ictal baseline. Bradypnoea was defined as a 10% decrease in respiratory rate from the pre-ictal baseline. Significant hypoxia was defined as a saturation of less than 85%. A significant change in heart rate was taken as a 10% increase or decrease below the baseline rate. Data were obtained from 101 seizures: 40 focal seizures, 21 generalized seizures, and 40 absences. Focal seizures were frequently associated with significant respiratory abnormalities, tachypnoea in 56%, apnoea in 30%, frequent respiratory pauses in 70%, and significant hypoxaemia in 40%. The changes seen in respiratory rate were statistically significant. Changes in cardiac parameters, an increase or decrease in heart rate, were observed in only 26% of focal seizures and 48% of generalized seizures. We conclude that seizure activity can disrupt normal physiological regulation and control of respiratory and cardiac activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Apnea / diagnosis
  • Apnea / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Epilepsies, Partial / etiology
  • Epilepsies, Partial / physiopathology
  • Epilepsy / etiology
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / etiology
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Heart / innervation
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / diagnosis
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medulla Oblongata / physiopathology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Respiration Disorders / diagnosis
  • Respiration Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiopathology