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Treatment 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


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.

Management of neonatal seizures involves accurate diagnosis of seizures, expedited evaluation and targeted treatment for their etiology, and medication to abolish the electrographic seizures. 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 epilepsy syndromes" and "Clinical features, evaluation, and diagnosis of neonatal seizures".)


Treatment directed at the cause of neonatal seizures is critical since it may prevent further brain injury. This is particularly true for seizures associated with some metabolic disturbances (eg, hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, and hypomagnesemia) and with central nervous system (CNS) or systemic infections. Furthermore, neonatal seizures may not be effectively controlled with antiseizure drugs unless their underlying cause is treated.

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

Neonatal encephalopathy — Neonatal encephalopathy (and associated hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy) is the most common cause of neonatal seizures. Even with therapeutic hypothermia for neuroprotection, about 50 percent of newborns with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy have electrographic seizures [1].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 06, 2017.
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