No apparent effect of surgery for temporal lobe epilepsy on heart rate variability

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Persson H, Kumlien E, Ericson M, and Tomson T (2006) No apparent effect of surgery for temporal lobe epilepsy on heart rate variability. Epilepsy Res 70:2-3 127–32.

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Abstract: BACKGROUND: Impaired cardiac autonomic function may contribute to the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Clinical observations indicate that successful epilepsy surgery is associated with a reduced risk of SUDEP. However, in a previous study we found impaired cardiac control pre-surgically in patients with poor outcome of surgery, indicating an a priori lower risk in responders to epilepsy surgery. We have now examined the effect of surgery on cardiac autonomic control in the same patients. METHODS: We used 24 h EKG recordings to assess heart rate variability (HRV) by spectral analysis in 21 consecutive patients after temporal lobe epilepsy surgery. The HRV was compared with healthy controls, with pre-surgical HRV in the same patients, and analyzed in relation to seizure control 1 year after surgery. RESULTS: The patients with poor outcome after surgery had significantly lower SD of RR-intervals, total power, very low frequency power and low frequency power than matched healthy controls. The patients with favorable outcome did not differ from the controls, and the postoperative HRV was not different from HRV before surgery in any of the patient groups. CONCLUSION: We could not demonstrate any effect on HRV of temporal lobe epilepsy surgery in these patients. The observed lower HRV in the poor outcome group was present already before epilepsy surgery as previously reported. Although our results need confirmation in a larger study, the observations suggest that the increased risk of SUDEP in patients failing epilepsy surgery may be due to a common factor predisposing to surgical failure, impaired HRV as well as to an increased risk of SUDEP.

Keywords: SUDEP; Heart rate variability; Temporal lobe epilepsy; Surgery; Autonomic nervous system


  • To determine whether surgical treatment of epilepsy, when successful, genuinely reduces risk of SUDEP (Persson et al.) or, conversely, patients with higher baseline risk for SUDEP are less likely to respond to cardiac surgery. 24-hour EKG recordings were compared before and after surgery. Surgery did not affect heart rate variability, and patients with limited response to surgery tended to have lower heart-rate variability at baseline.


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