February 15, 2022

A Tale of Two Cohorts: Differing Outcomes in Infantile-Onset Focal Epilepsy

Abstract published in Wiley Online Library

Objective: Infants with focal-onset epilepsy are an understudied population, requiring additional evaluation for clinical assessment and prognostication. Our goal was to characterize the etiology and natural history of infantile-onset focal epilepsy.

Methods: We retrospectively identified all infants (0–24 months) with onset of focal epilepsy while resident in Olmsted County, Minnesota, between 1980 and 2018, using the Rochester Epidemiology Project Database. We assessed the impact of etiology on both seizure and neurodevelopmental outcome, and mortality.

Results: Of 686 children with epilepsy onset <18 years, 125 (18.2%) presented with focal-onset seizures in infancy. Median follow-up for this group was 10.9 years (interquartile range [IQR] 6.2, 19.3). Etiology was identified in 65.6% (structural N = 62, genetic N = 13, both structural and genetic N = 3, metabolic N = 4). Of 107 patients followed >2 years, 38 (35.5%) developed drug-resistant epilepsy (DRE). DRE was more likely with younger age at onset, known etiology, and presence of epileptic spasms. Sixty-eight (63.0% of those with follow-up) were developmentally delayed at last follow-up, and known etiology, DRE, and presence of epileptic spasms were significantly associated with delay (p < .001 for all). Fifteen patients (12.0%) died at a median age of 7.1 years (IQR 1.7, 21.7), but only one death was seizure related (suspected sudden unexpected death in epilepsy [SUDEP]). Of 20 infants with normal development at onset and no known etiology with >2 years follow-up, none developed DRE, all were seizure-free at last follow-up (95% off antiseizure medications [ASMs]), and all remained developmentally normal.

Significance: Infantile-onset focal epilepsy accounts for 18% of all epilepsy in childhood, is frequently due to known etiologies, and has a high rate of DRE. However, developmentally normal infants without a known cause appear to have a very favorable course.