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Seizures and epilepsy in children: Refractory seizures and prognosis

Angus Wilfong, MD
Section Editor
Douglas R Nordli, Jr, MD
Deputy Editor
Janet L Wilterdink, MD


Most children with epilepsy achieve reasonably good seizure control with antiseizure drug therapy, but some are refractory despite numerous medications. Medical treatment failure is often apparent early in the course of treatment. In these cases, referral to a comprehensive epilepsy center is appropriate to explore additional therapeutic options, including epilepsy surgery, vagus nerve stimulation, and the ketogenic diet.

There is no standardized definition of medically intractable epilepsy. A task force of the International League Against Epilepsy proposed that drug-resistant epilepsy be defined as failure of adequate trials of two tolerated and appropriately chosen and used antiseizure drug schedules (whether as monotherapies or in combination) to achieve sustained seizure freedom [1].

This topic discusses the management and prognosis of seizures and epilepsy in children who are not controlled with initial antiseizure drug therapy. The clinical features, diagnosis, and initial management of seizures and epilepsy in children are presented separately. (See "Seizures and epilepsy in children: Classification, etiology, and clinical features" and "Clinical and laboratory diagnosis of seizures in infants and children" and "Seizures and epilepsy in children: Initial treatment and monitoring".)


When seizures do not respond as expected to initial antiseizure drug therapy, it is important to reconsider the seizure classification and the appropriateness of the antiseizure drug regimens that have been tried. In addition, clinicians should consider whether the diagnosis of epilepsy is accurate, as misdiagnosis is common. Common mimics of seizures include psychogenic nonepileptic seizures and other nonepileptic paroxysmal disorders (table 1).

Additional reasons for apparent treatment failure that do not reflect true intractability include:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 31, 2017.
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