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Etiology and prognosis of neonatal seizures

Renee Shellhaas, MD, MS
Section Editors
Douglas R Nordli, Jr, MD
Joseph A Garcia-Prats, MD
Deputy Editor
Janet L Wilterdink, MD


Identifying the etiology of seizures is a primary clinical objective in the management of neonatal seizures. Accurate determination of the cause can lead to etiology-specific therapy and may limit central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction that would otherwise occur if the underlying condition is left untreated. Treatment of the underlying cause of seizures may also be necessary to control the seizures themselves.

While there has been much discussion of the potential adverse effect of seizures on the immature brain, the most likely overriding factors that affect long-term outcome are the etiology of the seizures and the degree and distribution of brain injury caused by the underlying disturbance.

This topic review will discuss neonatal seizures in terms of their etiologies and will focus on acute symptomatic seizures. The much less common neonatal epilepsy syndromes are discussed separately. (See "Neonatal epilepsy syndromes".)

The clinical features, diagnosis, etiologic evaluation, and treatment of neonatal seizure are reviewed separately. (See "Clinical features, evaluation, and diagnosis of neonatal seizures" and "Treatment of neonatal seizures".)


Almost all neonatal seizures may be categorized as "symptomatic" seizures, occurring as a consequence of a specific identifiable etiology (table 1) [1]. Such seizures are considered acute and reactive and are therefore distinct from neonatal epilepsy. (See 'Acute symptomatic seizures' below.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 29, 2017.
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