helpline 01494 601 400
10 March 2016

Changes in heart activity during sleep linked to epilepsy in children

A study has found that even in children without seizures, heart rate changes during sleep could be an indicator of a risk of developing epilepsy later in life.

Researchers from Case Western University in Ohio monitored the electrocardiogram (ECG) results of 91 children and teenagers with epilepsy and 25 healthy children during 30 minutes of light sleep. None of the participants had a seizure during the study.  The scientists analysed the data for evidence of changes in the subconsciouly-operated parasympathetic nervous system that regulates breathing and heart rate.

The study showed that respiratory sinus arrhythmia - the increase in heart rate during inhalation and decrease during exhalation - was more pronounced in children with epilepsy, and that their heart rate also was significantly lower than in healthy subjects.

Roberto Fernández Galán, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western University explained that the results point to increased parasympathetic nervous system activity during sleep in children with epilepsy.

"but we don't know if this abnormality compensates for epilepsy, coincides with the disease or is part of the etiology", he added.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, concluded that treatment to normalise the activity of the autonomic nervous system could help to control epilepsy, but added that more research is needed.