Autonomic changes with seizures correlate with postictal EEG suppression

Neurology. 2012 Jun 5;78(23):1868-76. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318258f7f1. Epub 2012 Apr 25.


Objective: Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) poses a poorly understood but considerable risk to people with uncontrolled epilepsy. There is controversy regarding the significance of postictal generalized EEG suppression as a biomarker for SUDEP risk, and it remains unknown whether postictal EEG suppression has a neurologic correlate. Here, we examined the profile of autonomic alterations accompanying seizures with a wrist-worn biosensor and explored the relationship between autonomic dysregulation and postictal EEG suppression.

Methods: We used custom-built wrist-worn sensors to continuously record the sympathetically mediated electrodermal activity (EDA) of patients with refractory epilepsy admitted to the long-term video-EEG monitoring unit. Parasympathetic-modulated high-frequency (HF) power of heart rate variability was measured from concurrent EKG recordings.

Results: A total of 34 seizures comprising 22 complex partial and 12 tonic-clonic seizures from 11 patients were analyzed. The postictal period was characterized by a surge in EDA and heightened heart rate coinciding with persistent suppression of HF power. An increase in the EDA response amplitude correlated with an increase in the duration of EEG suppression (r = 0.81, p = 0.003). Decreased HF power correlated with an increase in the duration of EEG suppression (r = -0.87, p = 0.002).

Conclusion: The magnitude of both sympathetic activation and parasympathetic suppression increases with duration of EEG suppression after tonic-clonic seizures. These results provide autonomic correlates of postictal EEG suppression and highlight a critical window of postictal autonomic dysregulation that may be relevant in the pathogenesis of SUDEP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Death, Sudden / etiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Epilepsy / complications*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Seizures / physiopathology
  • Single-Blind Method