A complex febrile seizure — AKA one occurring with focality, duration > 15 minutes or recurrence within 24 hours, or associated with persistent AMS or post-ictal state — demands a greater amount of testing than a simple one. But to what extent? Which children benefit from neuroimaging, lumbar puncture, EEG testing, and which of these children go onto either have a bad outcome or have something diagnosed on one of those tests?
A group of authors studied 526 patients presenting with their first complex febrile seizure. In two separate papers, 64% received an LP and 50% received emergency head imaging. Of these, 3 patients (0.9%) were found to have acute bacterial meningitis — two of these grew out Strep pneumoniae by CSF culture. Among those with Strep pneumo in the CSF, one was non responsive at presentation and the other had a bulging fontanelle and apnea — the third child was well-appearing at presentation, and had a culture that grew out Strep Pneumo from the blood but the LP was unsuccessful. None of the patients who did not undergo lumbar puncture returned to the hospital with a ABM presentation.
In terms of imaging, 4 of the 526 patients had significant finding — two of these patients had ICH, one had ADEM (acute disseminated encephalomyelitis), and one had focal cerebral edema. Of these patients, 3/4 had obvious findings — nystagmus, emesis, AMS, hemiparesis, and bruising suggestive of NAT.
A second, more recent study performed in a Californian emergency department reported outcomes in 193 patients presenting with new-onset CFS, of which 136 received LP (showing the significant variability that exists between practice environments in terms of this practice). Of these, 14 had CSF pleocytosis, and one (0.5%) went on to be diagnosed with ABM. In a subset of these patients who had a second brief febrile seizure within 24 hours and who received LPs, none were found to have ABM or other serious neurologic disease. Again, this supports the suggestion that in patients without other concerning findings on exam, LP may be deferred — it also suggests (though this is a small patient series) that more than one seizure occurring within 24 hours may be protective in terms of risk stratification for ABM or other serious neurologic illnesses.
Takeaway? Tough to say. It seems that the majority of patients presenting with a complex febrile seizure without “obvious” (always easy to write in retrospect) signs of intra-axial badness go on to do very well, or at least go onto have normal findings on LPs and emergent head imaging. This seems to support the idea that LP and neuroimaging should be selectively added to the workup of a complex febrile seizure, rather than be thought of as necessarily indicated in this patient cohort. That said, guidelines are yet to be published by any leading groups such as ACEP or the AAP in terms of workup for complex febrile seizure, so guidance and support for a “standard of care” is yet to exist — tread carefully, and document thoroughly.