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Epilepsia. 1998 Apr;39(4):420-6.

Interictal cardiovascular autonomic responses in patients with epilepsy.

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Department of Neurology, University of Oulu, University Hospital of Oulu, Finland.



To evaluate the interictal autonomic nervous system function in 84 patients with epilepsy: 37 with newly diagnosed, previously untreated epilepsy, and 47 patients receiving long-term carbamazepine (CBZ), phenytoin (PHT), or valproate (VPA) monotherapy, or CBZ plus PHT, or CBZ plus VPA for their seizure disorder.


We assessed autonomic control of the cardiovascular regulatory system by standardized cardiovascular reflex tests measuring changes in heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) at rest and after certain stimuli.


The HR and BP responses were similar to those of control subjects in patients with newly diagnosed epilepsy. However, HR variation during normal breathing and maximum systolic BP increase in isometric work were diminished in patients, who had been treated with antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) for epilepsy for a long time. Diminished HR responses to the Valsalva maneuver were noted in patients receiving CBZ as monotherapy and during deep breathing in patients receiving CBZ combined with PHT or VPA. Furthermore, patients receiving CBZ had diminished BP responses in isometric work. When analyzed in relation to epilepsy type, suppressed HR responses in normal breathing were associated with primary generalized epilepsy (PGE), whereas diminished BP responses in isometric work were associated with partial epilepsy. Two patients with recently diagnosed partial epilepsy and 1 patient receiving long-term CBZ monotherapy for partial epilepsy had two abnormal cardiovascular response test results.


Our results show that cardiovascular responses mediated by both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system are diminished in patients with epilepsy. However, the changes appear to be clinically significant in only a few of them and appear to be associated with CBZ medication. Further studies are needed to detect the underlying complex interactions and clinical significance of autonomic nervous system dysfunction in patients with epilepsy.

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