Symptomatic Generalized Epilepsy Treatment & Management

Updated: Dec 11, 2018
  • Author: Emily Nakagawa, DO, MPH; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Medical Care for SGE

Symptomatic generalized epilepsy (SGE) is often intractable to antiepileptic medications, and no consensus has been reached on how it should be treated. Usually, many drug trials are needed to achieve reasonable seizure control. When neonates and infants as old as 1 year initially present with intractable seizures, a trial of intravenous (IV) pyridoxine should be administered in case the neonate has a pyridine-dependent seizure. When seizures remain uncontrolled with antiepileptic drugs, nonpharmacologic options should be considered, such as ketogenic diet, vagus nerve stimulation, and surgical options.

Antiepileptic medication

Myoclonic encephalopathy is found to respond to pyridoxine and benzoate. Ohtahara syndrome is found to respond to phenobarbital and zonisamide. Case reports have shown that corticotropin (ACTH) has not been useful in decreasing seizure frequency.

Traditionally, infantile spasm/West syndrome is treated with ACTH, corticosteroids, or benzodiazepines (Clonazepam). A Cochrane Database Systematic Review found strong evidence that high-dose hormonal treatments of prednisolone alleviates spasms faster and improves long-term developmental delay compared with vigabatrin for infantile spasms of no underlying cause. [17, 18] West syndrome associated with tuberous sclerosis responds best to vigabatrin, [4] and, in this setting, vigabatrin has become the drug of choice in many countries.

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome treatment involves valproate, lamotrigine, topiramate, rufinamide, and felbamate. [2] Risk factors associated with felbamate include aplastic anemia and hepatoxicity. Antiepileptic drugs to avoid include carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, phenytoin, and vigabatrin.

Myoclonic atonic treatment involves valproic acid, lamotrigine, and benzodiazepine. [2] Seizures are worsened by carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, phenytoin, vigabatrin, and phenobarbital. [2]

Myoclonic absence treatment involves a combination of ethosuximide and valproate.

Progressive myoclonic epilepsy treatment involves a combination of valproic acid, ethosuximide, benzodiazepines, phenobarbital, zonisamide, and lamotrigine. [19] Antiepileptic drugs to avoid because they may exacerbate myoclonus include phenytoin, carbamazepine, vigabatrin, and tiagabine. Lamotrigine should be used with caution as it can exacerbate myoclonus. Zonisamide as add-on therapy was been found to be useful in a study by Kyllerman and Ben-Menachem in which 7 patients with progressive myoclonic epilepsy who had intractable seizures on a regimen of valproic acid and benzodiazepine had reduction of seizures after the addition of zonisamide. [20]

Go to Antiepileptic Drugs for more information.

Ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet is used in children aged 1-10 years and consists of 90% of daily calories coming from fat. Typically, the diet is initiated in a hospital setting because the child must undergo 1-2 days of starvation to induce the ketosis. Then, the ketogenic diet is started. Approximately 10% of children who undergo the ketogenic diet have complications of nephrolithiasis; the risk is higher in children on topiramate. Several reviews have concluded there are benefits with the ketogenic diet as treatment for intractable pediatric epilepsy, which is often symptomatic generalized epilepsy (SGE). [21]

A review by Lefevre and Aronson found a reduction of seizure frequency in two thirds of the children, which subsequently permitted a reduction in their seizure medication. [22] In a study examining the long-term effects after cessation of the ketogenic diet on pediatric patients with epilepsy, 60% with SGE, the most common adverse effect was less than tenth percentile for height. [4] A ketogenic diet was the most effective treatment in decreasing seizures in a pediatric group of 23 myoclonic astatic epilepsy patients. [23]

Vagus nerve stimulation

The vagal nerve stimulator is a pacemakerlike device implanted in the chest with stimulating electrodes that connect to the vagus nerve at the left carotid bifurcation. The stimulator is found to decrease as much as 25% of seizures in intractable partial or secondarily generalized seizures. [1]

The mechanism of action is unknown, and its use is still considered experimental. In a retrospective trial of 46 patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, vagus nerve stimulation resulted in 43 patients having a 58.2% median seizure reduction in 3 months. [24] The most common adverse effect reported was coughing during the stimulation and voice alteration.

Go to Vagus Nerve Stimulation for more information.


Surgical Care for SGE

Corpus callosotomy is a surgical option for patients with drop attacks and atonic and tonic seizures and has also reduced the rates of generalized tonic-clonic seizures. [25] In patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, patients with atonic or tonic seizures as the primary seizure type have the option of resection of the complete corpus callosum or just the anterior portion. If the patient has mental retardation, the recommendation is a 90-100% (complete) corpus callosotomy. If the patient has no mental retardation, then an anterior 75% corpus callosotomy is recommended. Vagus nerve stimulation should be attempted before surgery.



Consultation with a neurosurgeon may be needed.



See Ketogenic diet in Medical Care.


Further Outpatient Care

Pediatric patients who present with seizures require close follow-up because epilepsy syndromes transform into other syndromes as the patient grows older.



Patients with symptomatic generalized epilepsy (SGE) often have long-term complications from antiepileptic drug adverse effects; thus, maximizing all treatment options such as ketogenic diet and vagus nerve stimulation are encouraged.



The seizures in symptomatic generalized epilepsy (SGE) are often intractable, and patients require continued supportive management of their underlying brain lesions.