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Treatment of neonatal seizures

Eli M Mizrahi, MD
Section Editors
Douglas R Nordli, Jr, MD
Joseph A Garcia-Prats, MD
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


The occurrence of neonatal seizures may be the first, and perhaps the only, clinical sign of a central nervous system (CNS) disorder in the newborn infant. Seizures may indicate the presence of a potentially treatable etiology and should prompt an immediate evaluation to determine cause and to institute etiology-specific therapy. In addition, seizures themselves may require emergent therapy, since they can adversely affect the infant's homeostasis or they may contribute to further brain injury. Some types of neonatal seizures are associated with a relatively high incidence of early death and, in survivors, a high incidence of neurologic impairment, developmental delay, and postneonatal epilepsy.

This topic will discuss the approach to treatment of neonatal seizures. The etiology, clinical features and diagnosis of neonatal seizures are discussed separately. (See "Etiology and prognosis of neonatal seizures" and "Neonatal epileptic syndromes" and "Clinical features and electrodiagnosis of neonatal seizures".)

Both seizures and their subsequent therapy may be associated with changes in respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. An adequate airway and access to the circulatory system must be insured early in the course of treatment.


Etiologic specific therapy is critical since it may prevent further brain injury. This is particularly true for seizures associated with some metabolic disorders (eg, hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, and hypomagnesemia) and with central nervous system (CNS) or systemic infections. Furthermore, neonatal seizures may not be effectively controlled with antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) unless their underlying cause is treated.

The most common etiologies of neonatal seizures are reviewed in the Table (table 1).


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Literature review current through: Jan 2015. | This topic last updated: Sep 24, 2014.
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