Peri‐ictal heart rate variability parameters as surrogate markers of seizure severity

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Abstract

This study aims at defining objective parameters reflecting the severity of peri‐ictal autonomic changes and their relation to post‐ictal generalized electroencephalography (EEG) suppression (PGES), with the view that such changes could be detected by wearable seizure detection systems and prove useful to assess the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). To this purpose, we assessed peri‐ictal changes in heart rate variability (HRV) and correlated them with seizure duration, intensity of electromyography‐based ictal muscle activity, and presence and duration of post‐ictal generalized EEG suppression (PGES). We evaluated 75 motor seizures from 40 patients, including 61 generalized tonic‐clonic seizures (GTCS) and 14 other major motor seizure types. For all major motor seizures, HRV measurements demonstrated a significantly decreased parasympathetic activity and increased sympathetic activity in the post‐ictal period. The post‐ictal increased sympathetic activity was significantly higher for GTCS as compared with non‐GTCS. The degree of peri‐ictal decreased parasympathetic activity and increased sympathetic activity was associated with longer PGES (>20 s), longer seizure duration, and greater intensity of ictal muscle activity. Mean post‐ictal heart rate (HR) was an independent predictor of PGES duration, seizure duration, and intensity of ictal muscle contraction. Our results indicate that peri‐ictal changes in HRV are potential biomarkers of major motor seizure severity.

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