Cardiorespiratory and autonomic function in epileptic seizures: A video-EEG monitoring study

Shobi Sivathamboo, Thomas N. Constantino, Zhibin Chen, Paul B. Sparks, Jeremy Goldin, Dennis Velakoulis, Nigel C. Jones, Patrick Kwan, Vaughan G. Macefield, Terence J. O'Brien, Piero Perucca

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Purpose: Seizure-induced cardiorespiratory and autonomic dysfunction has long been recognized, and growing evidence points to its implication in sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). However, a comprehensive understanding of cardiorespiratory function in the preictal, ictal, and postictal periods are lacking. Methods: We examined continuous cardiorespiratory and autonomic function in 157 seizures (18 convulsive and 139 nonconvulsive) from 70 consecutive patients who had a seizure captured on concurrent video-encephalogram (EEG) monitoring and polysomnography between February 1, 2012 and May 31, 2017. Heart and respiratory rates, heart rate variability (HRV), and oxygen saturation were assessed across four distinct periods: baseline (120 s), preictal (60 s), ictal, and postictal (300 s). Heart and respiratory rates were further followed for up to 60 min after seizure termination to assess return to baseline. Results: Ictal tachycardia occurred during both convulsive and nonconvulsive seizures, but the maximum rate was higher for convulsive seizures (mean: 138.8 beats/min, 95% confidence interval (CI): 125.3–152.4) compared with nonconvulsive seizures (mean: 105.4 beats/min, 95% CI: 101.2–109.6; p < 0.001). Convulsive seizures were associated with a lower ictal minimum respiratory rate (mean: 0 breaths/min, 95% CI: 0–0) compared with nonconvulsive seizures (mean: 11.0 breaths/min, 95% CI: 9.5–12.6; p < 0.001). Ictal obstructive apnea was associated with convulsive compared with nonconvulsive seizures. The low-frequency (LF) power band of ictal HRV was higher among convulsive seizures than nonconvulsive seizures (ratio of means (ROM): 2.97, 95% CI: 1.34–6.60; p = 0.008). Postictal tachycardia was substantially prolonged, characterized by a longer return to baseline for convulsive seizures (median: 60.0 min, interquartile range (IQR): 46.5–60.0) than nonconvulsive seizures (median: 0.26 min, IQR: 0.008–0.9; p < 0.001). For postictal hyperventilation, the return to baseline was longer in convulsive seizures (median: 25.3 min, IQR: 8.1–60) than nonconvulsive seizures (median: 1.0 min, IQR: 0.07–3.2; p < 0.001). The LF power band of postictal HRV was lower in convulsive seizures than nonconvulsive seizures (ROM: 0.33, 95% CI: 0.11–0.96; p = 0.043). Convulsive seizures with postictal generalized EEG suppression (PGES; n = 12) were associated with lower postictal heart and respiratory rate, and increased HRV, compared with those without (n = 6). Conclusions: Profound cardiorespiratory and autonomic dysfunction associated with convulsive seizures may explain why these seizures carry the greatest risk of SUDEP.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107271
Number of pages13
JournalEpilepsy and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Cardiorespiratory function
  • Epilepsy
  • HRV
  • Seizures

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