Pharmacologic and Dietary Treatments for Epilepsies in Children Aged 1-36 Months: A Systematic Review

Neurology. 2023 Jan 3;100(1):e16-e27. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000201026. Epub 2022 Oct 21.


Background and objectives: Early life epilepsies are common and often debilitating, but no evidence-based management guidelines exist outside of those for infantile spasms. We conducted a systematic review of the effectiveness and harms of pharmacologic and dietary treatments for epilepsy in children aged 1-36 months without infantile spasms.

Methods: We searched EMBASE, MEDLINE, PubMed, and the Cochrane Library for studies published from January 1, 1999, to August 19, 2021. Using prespecified criteria, we identified studies reporting data on children aged 1-36 months receiving pharmacologic or dietary treatments for epilepsy. We did not require that studies report etiology-specific data. We excluded studies of neonates, infantile spasms, and status epilepticus. We included studies administering 1 of 29 pharmacologic treatments and/or 1 of 5 dietary treatments reporting effectiveness outcomes at ≥ 12 weeks. We reviewed the full text to find any subgroup analyses of children aged 1-36 months.

Results: Twenty-three studies met inclusion criteria (6 randomized studies, 2 nonrandomized comparative studies, and 15 prestudies/poststudies). All conclusions were rated low strength of evidence. Levetiracetam leads to seizure freedom in some infants (32% and 66% in studies reporting seizure freedom), but data on 6 other medications were insufficient to permit conclusions about effectiveness (topiramate, lamotrigine, phenytoin, vigabatrin, rufinamide, and stiripentol). Three medications (levetiracetam, topiramate, and lamotrigine) were rarely discontinued because of adverse effects, and severe events were rare. For diets, the ketogenic diet leads to seizure freedom in some infants (rates 12%-37%), and both the ketogenic diet and modified Atkins diet reduce average seizure frequency, but reductions are greater with the ketogenic diet (1 RCT reported a 71% frequency reduction at 6 months for ketogenic diet vs only a 28% reduction for the modified Atkins diet). Dietary harms were not well-reported.

Discussion: Little high-quality evidence exists on pharmacologic and dietary treatments for early life epilepsies. Future research should isolate how treatments contribute to outcomes, conduct etiology-specific analyses, and report patient-centered outcomes such as hospitalization, neurodevelopment, functional performance, sleep quality, and patient and caregiver quality of life.

Trial registration information: This systematic review was registered in PROSPERO (CRD42021220352) on March 5, 2021.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Diet, Ketogenic*
  • Epilepsy* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lamotrigine / therapeutic use
  • Levetiracetam / therapeutic use
  • Quality of Life
  • Spasms, Infantile* / drug therapy
  • Topiramate / therapeutic use


  • Lamotrigine
  • Levetiracetam
  • Topiramate
  • Anticonvulsants