PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Epilepsy is associated with autonomic dysfunction. Here, we provide an up-to-date review on measures of interictal autonomic function, focusing on heart rate variability (HRV), baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) and electrodermal activity (EDA).
RECENT FINDINGS: Resting HRV, BRS and EDA are altered in patients with epilepsy compared with healthy controls. A larger body of work is available for HRV compared with BRS and EDA, and points to interictal HRV derangements across a wide range of epilepsies, including focal, generalized, and combined generalized and focal epilepsies. HRV alterations are most pronounced in temporal lobe epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and drug-resistant and chronic epilepsies. There are conflicting data on the effect of antiseizure medications on measures of interictal autonomic function. However, carbamazepine has been associated with decreased HRV. Epilepsy surgery and vagus nerve stimulation do not appear to have substantial impact on measures of interictal autonomic function but well designed studies are lacking.
SUMMARY: Patients with epilepsy, particularly those with longstanding uncontrolled seizures, have measurable alterations of resting autonomic function. These alterations may be relevant to the increased risk of premature mortality in epilepsy, including sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, which warrants investigation in future research.