Severe myoclonic epilepsy in infants--a review based on the Tokyo Women's Medical University series of 84 cases.


Severe myoclonic epilepsy in infants (SME) is one of the most malignant epileptic syndromes recognized in the latest classification of epileptic syndromes. The clinical details and electroencephalographic (EEG) characteristics have been elucidated by Dravet et al. The diagnosis of SME depends largely on the combination of clinical and EEG manifestations at different ages, of which the presence of myoclonic seizures appears to be the most important. However, because of the inclusion of different types of myoclonic attack and the lack of strict criteria for diagnosing SME, there has been some confusion as to whether patients without myoclonic seizures or myoclonus should be classified as SME, despite other identical clinical symptoms (SME borderlands (SMEB) group). Among the various clinical manifestations characterizing SME, special attention has been paid to seizures easily precipitated by fever and hot baths in Japan. We have demonstrated that the onset of myoclonic attack in these patients is very sensitive to the elevation of body temperature itself rather than its etiology. Using simultaneous EEG and rectal temperature monitoring during hot water immersion, we showed that epileptic discharges increased in frequency, and eventually developed into seizures at temperatures over 38 degrees C. We believe that the unique fever sensitivity observed in SME is similar to, but more intense than that of febrile convulsions. We have also identified a group of cases who have had innumerous myoclonic and atypical absence seizures daily which were sensitive to the constant bright light illumination. In these cases, spike discharges increased or decreased depending on the intensity of constant light illumination. Although these cases form the most resistant SME group, they lost the constant light sensitivity with increasing age, leaving only relatively common types of fever-sensitive grand mal seizures (FSGM) at the age of around 5 years. In the long run, only convulsive seizures continue, while myoclonic or absence seizures and photosensitivity disappear with advancing age, thus it is conceivable that SMEB constitutes a basic epileptic condition underlying SME. There is a clinical continuum that extends from the mildest end of SMEB to the severest end of SME with constant light sensitivity, with intermediates of frequent or infrequent myoclonic and absence seizures in-between. This spectrum concept appropriately explains the clinical variabilities between SME and SMEB during early childhood.


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