A population-based study of long-term outcomes of cryptogenic focal epilepsy in childhood: Cryptogenic epilepsy is probably not symptomatic epilepsy

Elaine C. Wirrell, Brandon R. Grossardt, Elson L. So, Katherine C. Nickels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Purpose: To compare long-term outcome in a population-based group of children with cryptogenic versus symptomatic focal epilepsy diagnosed from 1980 to 2004 and to define the course of epilepsy in the cryptogenic group. Methods: We identified all children residing in Olmsted County, MN, 1 month through 17 years, with newly diagnosed, nonidiopathic focal epilepsy from 1980 to 2004. Children with idiopathic partial epilepsy syndromes were excluded. Medical records were reviewed to determine etiology, results of imaging and EEG studies, treatments used, and long-term outcome. Children were defined as having symptomatic epilepsy if they had a known genetic or structural/metabolic etiology, and as cryptogenic if they did not. Key Findings: Of 359 children with newly diagnosed epilepsy, 215 (60%) had nonidiopathic focal epilepsy. Of these, 206 (96%) were followed for >12 months. Ninety-five children (46%) were classified as symptomatic. Median follow-up from diagnosis was similar in both groups, being 157 months (25%, 75%: 89, 233) in the cryptogenic group versus 134 months (25%, 75%: 78, 220) in the symptomatic group (p = 0.26). Of 111 cryptogenic cases, 66% had normal cognition. Long-term outcome was significantly better in those with cryptogenic versus symptomatic etiology (intractable epilepsy at last follow-up, 7% vs. 40%, p < 0.001; seizure freedom at last follow-up, 81% vs. 55%, p < 0.001). Of those who achieved seizure freedom at final follow-up, 68% of the cryptogenic group versus only 46% of the symptomatic group were off antiepileptic medications (p = 0.01). One-third of the cryptogenic group had a remarkably benign disorder, with no seizures seen after initiation of medication, or in those who were untreated, after the second afebrile seizure. A further 5% had seizures within the first year but remained seizure-free thereafter. With the exception of perinatal complications, which predicted against seizure remission, no other factors were found to significantly predict outcome in the cryptogenic group. Significance: More than half of childhood nonidiopathic localization-related epilepsy is cryptogenic. This group has a significantly better long-term outcome than those with a symptomatic etiology, and should be distinguished from it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-745
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Children
  • Cryptogenic
  • Focal epilepsy
  • Symptomatic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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