Research Article

The course of untreated epilepsy.

BMJ 1988; 297 doi: (Published 15 October 1988) Cite this as: BMJ 1988;297:948
  1. R. D. Elwes,
  2. A. L. Johnson,
  3. E. H. Reynolds
  1. University Department of Neurology, King's College Hospital, London.


    As little is known about the course of untreated epilepsy the time intervals between untreated tonic clonic seizures were examined retrospectively in a series of 183 patients presenting to a neurological department having had two to five seizures. After the first seizure a second attack had occurred within one month in 56 patients, within three months in 93, and within one year in 159. The median interval between the first two seizures was 12 weeks (95% confidence interval 10 to 18 weeks), between the second and third eight weeks (four to 12 weeks), between the third and fourth four weeks (two to 20 weeks), and between the fourth and fifth three weeks (one to four weeks). When patients who had had three, four, or five untreated seizures were considered separately a similar pattern of decreasing intervals was seen. Successive intervals between seizures could be compared in 82 patients. In 48 the interval decreased, in 16 it did not change, and in 18 it increased. These results suggest that in many patients there is an accelerating disease process in the early stages of epilepsy.