Will a critical level of hyperventilation-induced hypocapnia always induce an absence seizure?

Elaine C. Wirrell, Peter R. Camfield, Kevin E. Gordon, Carol S. Camfield, Joseph M. Dooley, Brian D. Hanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


We wished to determine if the degree of hypocapnia correlates with increased frequency of absence seizures and if there is a critical pCO2 at which absence seizures are reliably provoked. Twelve untreated children with newly diagnosed absence epilepsy were continuously monitored by EEG and end- expiratory CO2 recording during quiet respiration and hyperventilation (to absence seizure or exhaustion) while breathing four gas mixtures: (a) room air, (b) 100% O2, (c) 4% CO2 in room air, or (d) 4% CO2 + 96% O2). In quiet respiration, a reduction in number of spike and wave bursts and total seconds of spike and wave was noted in children breathing supplemental CO2 (gases c and d vs. gases a and b), p < 0.05. Supplemental O2 had no effect. Eight subjects had absence seizures elicited with each trial of hyperventilation. All subjects had their own critical pCO2, ranging from 19 to 28 mmHg. Three children had no seizures, two despite hypocapnia to pCO2 of 19 and 21 and 1 who achieved a pCO2 of only 25. In 1, absence seizures were provoked in only six of nine hyperventilation trials to pCO2 of 17-23. In 67% of subjects, absence seizures were reliably provoked by hypocapnia. Critical pCO2 varied among children with absence. Determination of whether variation in sensitivity to hypocapnia may be helpful in determining response to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) or remission of seizures will require further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-462
Number of pages4
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1996


  • Absence seizures
  • Epilepsy
  • Hyperventilation
  • Hypocapnia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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