The pathophysiology of cardiac dysfunction in epilepsy

Krishnan Ravindran, Kim L. Powell, Marian Todaro, Terence J. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Alterations in cardiac electrophysiology are an established consequence of long-standing drug resistant epilepsy. Patients with chronic epilepsy display abnormalities in both sinoatrial node pacemaker current as well as ventricular repolarizing current that places them at a greater risk of developing life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. The development of cardiac arrhythmias secondary to drug resistant epilepsy is believed to be a key mechanism underlying the phenomenon of Sudden Unexpected Death in EPilepsy (SUDEP). Though an increasing amount of studies examining both animal models and human patients have provided evidence that chronic epilepsy can detrimentally affect cardiac function, the underlying pathophysiology remains unclear. Recent work has shown the expression of several key cardiac ion channels to be altered in animal models of genetic and acquired epilepsies. This has led to the currently held paradigm that cardiac ion channel expression may be secondarily altered as a consequence of seizure activity-resulting in electrophysiological cardiac dysfunction. Furthermore, cortical autonomic dysfunction – resulting from seizure activity-has also been suggested to play a role, whereby seizure activity may indirectly influence cardiac function via altering centrally-mediated autonomic output to the heart. In this review, we discuss various cardiac dysrhythmias associated with seizure events-including tachycardia, bradycardia and QT prolongation, both ictally and inter-ictally, as well as the role of the autonomic nervous system. We further discuss key ion channels expressed in both the heart and the brain that have been shown to be altered in epilepsy and may be responsible for the development of cardiac dysrhythmias secondary to chronic epilepsy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-29
Number of pages11
JournalEpilepsy Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Arrhythmia
  • Cardiac channelopathy
  • Epilepsy
  • Long QT syndrome

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