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Reflex anoxic seizures ('white breath-holding'): nonepileptic vagal attacks.
  1. J B Stephenson


    From clinical history 58 children were diagnosed as having reflex anoxic seizures secondary to provoked cardioinhibition (also known as white breath-holding attacks). Before referral, these seizures were commonly misdiagnosed as epileptic either because the provocation was ignored, not recognised, or was a febrile illness, or because there was no crying, no obvious breath-holding, little cyanosis, and often no pallor to suggest syncope and cerebral ischaemia. The duration of cardiac asystole after ocular compression was measured in these children and in 60 additional children with other paroxysmal disorders. In 45 (78%) of the 58 with reflex anoxic seizures asystole was 2 seconds or over, and in 32 (55%) it was 4 seconds or greater, an abnormal response. Review of the literature supports the concept that these seizures result from vagal-mediated reflex cardiac arrest which can if necessary be prevented by atropine. The simple name 'vagal attack' is proposed. Ocular compression under EEG and ECG control supports the clinical diagnosis if asystole and/or an anoxic seizure is induced; the procedure described is safe and should be routine in seizure or syncope evaluation, when a meticulous history still leaves room for doubt.

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