Interictal electrocardiographic predictors of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) are unknown. This study was designed to identify the unique features of the interictal 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) in patients with epileptic seizures. We conducted a retrospective chart review of adult patients below the age of 65 admitted to our epilepsy monitoring unit. Using EEG telemetry data, we classified patients as having nonepileptic seizures (NESs), probable epilepsy (PE), or definite epilepsy (DE) and analyzed 12-lead EKGs obtained on admission. Patients with NESs were assigned as the control group. We included patients taking antipsychotic and/or antidepressant medications but excluded patients with medical conditions or taking other medications that would otherwise confound EKG measurements. Out of the 1007 charts reviewed, 195 patients were included in our analysis, and extensive subgroup analyses were performed. We found that patients with definite localization-related epilepsy displayed a significantly longer average PR interval (162.1 ms) than patients with NESs (148.8 ms). This effect was pronounced in female patients and did not vary with the number of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) prescribed. In contrast to previous studies, mean QTc intervals were not significantly different between DE (428 ms) and NESs (422.6 ms). However, within females, this difference reached statistical significance (DE: 434.6 ms, NESs: 424.6 ms). Antiepileptic drug polytherapy was associated with a significantly lower QTc interval (416 ms in patients on 4-6 drugs and 436.4 ms in patients on 0-1 drugs). Levetiracetam was the most commonly used AED and was associated with the longest average PR (163 ms) and QTc (432 ms) intervals. The mean QRS axis displayed a significant leftward shift in patients with localization-related epilepsy (35.6° versus 54.3° in patients with NESs) and also in female patients with DE (42.1° versus 55.4° in female patients with NESs). No differences were observed between patients with left versus right hemisphere seizure foci. Overall, these findings may reflect cardiac structural changes and/or alterations in autonomic tone that deserve closer study. Further, longer-term prospective studies are required to understand how these electrocardiographic signatures may predict sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.
Keywords: Cardiac conduction; Electrocardiogram; Epilepsy; SUDEP; Ventricular repolarization.