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N Engl J Med. 1998 Feb 12;338(7):429-34.

Risk of recurrent seizures after two unprovoked seizures.

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  • 1G.H. Sergievsky Center, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.



Patients with a single unprovoked seizure have about a 35 percent risk of recurrence in the subsequent five years. We studied the risk of recurrence after two unprovoked seizures.


We prospectively followed 204 patients with a first unprovoked seizure from the day of the initial seizure. Information was obtained from patients (and verified by a review of their medical records) about the dates and circumstances of any subsequent seizures. The risk of a second, third, and fourth seizure was estimated by the Kaplan-Meier method.


Of the 204 patients, 63 had a second seizure, 41 a third seizure, and 26 a fourth seizure. The mean age of the patients was 36 years, 10 percent were less than 16 years of age, 70 percent were male, 71 percent had epilepsy of unknown cause, and 66 percent had generalized seizures. The risk of a second unprovoked seizure was 33 percent. Among those with a second seizure, the risk of a third unprovoked seizure was 73 percent; among those with a third unprovoked seizure, the risk of a fourth was 76 percent. Most recurrences occurred within one year of the second or third seizure. The risk of a third seizure was higher in those with a presumed cause of epilepsy (relative risk, 1.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.0 to 3.4).


Although only about one third of patients with a first unprovoked seizure will have further seizures within five years, about three quarters of those with two or three unprovoked seizures have further seizures within four years.

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