Age-specific periictal electroclinical features of generalized tonic-clonic seizures and potential risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP)

Epilepsy Behav. 2013 Nov;29(2):289-94. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2013.08.010. Epub 2013 Sep 5.


Generalized tonic-clonic seizure (GTCS) is the commonest seizure type associated with sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). This study examined the semiological and electroencephalographic differences (EEG) in the GTCSs of adults as compared with those of children. The rationale lies on epidemiological observations that have noted a tenfold higher incidence of SUDEP in adults. We analyzed the video-EEG data of 105 GTCS events in 61 consecutive patients (12 children, 23 seizure events and 49 adults, 82 seizure events) recruited from the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. Semiological, EEG, and 3-channel EKG features were studied. Periictal seizure phase durations were analyzed including tonic, clonic, total seizure, postictal EEG suppression (PGES), and recovery phases. Heart rate variability (HRV) measures including RMSSD (root mean square successive difference of RR intervals), SDNN (standard deviation of NN intervals), and SDSD (standard deviation of differences) were analyzed (including low frequency/high frequency power ratios) during preictal baseline and ictal and postictal phases. Generalized estimating equations (GEEs) were used to find associations between electroclinical features. Separate subgroup analyses were carried out on adult and pediatric age groups as well as medication groups (no antiepileptic medication cessation versus unchanged or reduced medication) during admission. Major differences were seen in adult and pediatric seizures with total seizure duration, tonic phase, PGES, and recovery phases being significantly shorter in children (p<0.01). Generalized estimating equation analysis, using tonic phase duration as the dependent variable, found age to correlate significantly (p<0.001), and this remained significant during subgroup analysis (adults and children) such that each 0.12-second increase in tonic phase duration correlated with a 1-second increase in PGES duration. Postictal EEG suppression durations were on average 28s shorter in children. With cessation of medication, total seizure duration was significantly increased by a mean value of 8s in children and 11s in adults (p<0.05). Tonic phase duration also significantly increased with medication cessation, and although PGES durations increased, this was not significant. Root mean square successive difference was negatively correlated with PGES duration (longer PGES durations were associated with decreased vagally mediated heart rate variability; p<0.05) but not with tonic phase duration. This study clearly points out identifiable electroclinical differences between adult and pediatric GTCSs that may be relevant in explaining lower SUDEP risk in children. The findings suggest that some prolonged seizure phases and prolonged PGES duration may be electroclinical markers of SUDEP risk and merit further study.

Keywords: Adults; Age-specific; Children; Generalized tonic–clonic seizures; Postictal EEG suppression; SUDEP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging*
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Death, Sudden / etiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Seizures / complications*
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Seizures / psychology*


  • Anticonvulsants