Acute effects of subclinical epileptiform EEG discharges on cognitive activation

Author(s): Aldenkamp AP, Beitler J, Arends J, van der Linden I, Diepman L


In this prospective, open, clinical comparative study we analyzed impairments of cognitive activation occurring during, immediately before and immediately after epochs with epileptiform EEG discharges of 3 seconds or longer, in an attempt to establish whether cognitive slowing occurs in direct association with an epoch with epileptiform EEG discharges and whether cognitive impairments precede or follow such an epoch. All children were assessed with EEG/video (Brainlab) simultaneously with computerized neuropsychological testing (FePsy): a test for cognitive activation (simple visual and auditory reaction time measurement). Thirty-seven epochs with epileptiform EEG discharges without clinical signs of a seizure (subclinical epileptiform EEG discharges) were evaluated. The results showed a statistically significant and clinically relevant slowing (35% compared to the overall reaction time), occurring during the epoch with epileptiform EEG discharges (repeated measurement analysis of variance p = < .05; df = 3; F-value: 3.293). No statistically significant slowing was found for the periods 'post-discharge' or 'pre-discharge'. Type of discharge was important and effects on cognitive activation were found exclusively for generalized discharges. This effect was, however, also seen in the remaining period, outside the 'peri-discharge' periods and thus seemed to represent a more general effect of the type of epilepsy on cognitive activation. Our results show that the acute effect of short epileptiform EEG discharges (duration 4.14 sec; sd 1.38) may be impressive, causing impairment (slowing) of cognitive activation. This effect was limited to generalized discharges. This effect was not observed for focal discharges, even during longer periods with discharges. However, it is reassuring that this impact on cognitive activation is limited to the actual period in which the discharges occur and does not have 'post-discharge' effects. The risk of accumulating effects that may have longer-lasting repercussions on higher-order cognitive functions therefore seems to be negligible.

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