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Neonatal Seizures Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Raj D Sheth, MD; Chief Editor: Amy Kao, MD  more...
Updated: Apr 15, 2016


Infants with neonatal seizures are frequently lethargic between seizures and often appear ill. Findings of the neurologic examination between seizures may be normal. However, neurologic examination abnormalities may be seen correlating with a focal or generalized neurologic syndrome. The clinical history provides important clues to the likely etiology of neonatal seizures.[1]

Family history

A family history of neonatal convulsions may suggest that the infant has a genetic syndrome. Many of these syndromes are considered benign and frequently disappear within the neonatal period. In the absence of other etiologies, a family history of neonatal seizures may suggest a good prognosis.[9]

Pregnancy history

A detailed pregnancy history is important. Search for a history that supports TORCH (toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes) infections. The presence of kittens may suggest toxoplasmosis as an etiology. A history of fetal distress, preeclampsia, or maternal infection also can provide etiologic clues.

Delivery history

Delivery history is also important. The type of delivery and the antecedent events should be documented. Apgar scores may offer some guidance concerning etiology, although a low Apgar score without the need for resuscitation and subsequent neonatal intensive care is unlikely to be associated with neonatal seizures.

Postnatal history

The postnatal history is also significant. Neonatal seizures in infants with an uneventful antenatal history and delivery may result from a postnatal cause. A history of tremulousness may suggest drug withdrawal or neonatal hypocalcemia. Temperature and/or blood pressure instability may suggest an infection; a sepsis workup may be required.

A history of rubella or the absence of immunization against rubella may offer a diagnostic clue. In the United States, rubella immunization typically is given during the toddler years to both sexes and the degree of immunity is high. In countries where only teenage girls are immunized for rubella, neonatal seizures resulting from central nervous system (CNS) rubella involvement is a greater threat.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Raj D Sheth, MD Chief, Division of Pediatric Neurology, Nemours Children's Clinic; Professor of Neurology, Mayo College of Medicine; Professor of Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine

Raj D Sheth, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Epilepsy Society, American Neurological Association, Child Neurology Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Amy Kao, MD Attending Neurologist, Children's National Medical Center

Amy Kao, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society, Child Neurology Society

Disclosure: Have stock from Cellectar Biosciences; have stock from Varian medical systems; have stock from Express Scripts.


Robert Stanley Rust Jr, MD, MA Thomas E Worrell Jr Professor of Epileptology and Neurology, Co-Director of FE Dreifuss Child Neurology and Epilepsy Clinics, Director, Child Neurology, University of Virginia; Chair-Elect, Child Neurology Section, American Academy of Neurology

Robert Stanley Rust Jr, MD, MA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society, American Headache Society, American Neurological Association, Child Neurology Society, International Child Neurology Association, and Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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Onset of neonatal seizure demonstrating a focal onset in the right frontal (FP4) region. At this point, the child had head and eye deviation to the left.
Twenty seconds into a seizure that had focal onset in the right frontal (FP4) region, the seizure shows a rhythmic buildup of activity in the right frontocentral region.
This seizure had focal onset in the right frontal (FP4) region and subsequent buildup of activity in the right frontocentral region. As the seizure evolves, the electroencephalogram shows diffuse involvement of both cerebral hemispheres.
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