Epilepsy Febrile Seizure Plus (GEFS+)Douglas R. Nordli, Jr. and John M. Pellock

Published on 21/06/2017 by admin

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Last modified 21/06/2017

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GEFS+ is an acronym for generalized epilepsy febrile seizures plus. It was defined by Scheffer et al in 1997 and was based upon a very careful and extensive examination of large families with multiple affected individuals (1). Family members had febrile seizures alone (FS); febrile seizures plus implies febrile seizures beyond the typical age limit of 6 years or a history of febrile seizures along with afebrile generalized seizures, or afebrile seizures. Early descriptions of the afebrile seizures in these individuals highlighted generalized seizures including absence, convulsions, myoclonus, and atonic seizures. Later descriptions included a richer variety of seizures and epilepsy syndromes. Perhaps the most startling revelation was the fact that some families contained children with severe epilepsies, including myoclonic–astatic epilepsy as described by the Doose syndrome, Dravet syndrome, temporal lobe epilepsy, and infantile spasms. It was quickly recognized that this was a very important contribution to our understanding of the genetic contributions to epilepsy. Some characteristics appeared to be inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion, but the extremely broad clinical spectrum of affected individuals in some families strongly suggested polygenic contributions. These genetic influences may involve complex interactions between susceptibility genes, modifier genes, and the environment.


The discovery of GEFS+ postdates many of the classic and extensive epidemiologic studies of childhood epilepsy. The original patients described were from large families, which are undoubtedly quite rare. GEFS+ more commonly presents in small families, or perhaps occurs with spontaneous mutations such that the genetic contributions may not be appreciated by the physicians caring for the patients, unless the individual presents with a severe phenotype, such as Dravet syndrome, and undergoes SCN1A testing. These facts, coupled with the large and diverse clinical spectrum of the disorder, make it difficult to establish the precise incidence and prevalence. It is nevertheless clear that families with GEFS+ have been confirmed in many different regions of the world with diverse racial backgrounds and that the phenomenon is not isolated to a restricted gene pool. There is no clear gender preponderance.


The clinical manifestation of GEFS+ are diverse (1,2). The most common phenotype is typical febrile seizures, defined as convulsions in the setting of fever (above 38°C) in children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years. The second most common phenotype is febrile seizures plus, which indicates that febrile seizures continued beyond 6 years of age or that there were afebrile convulsions in addition to the febrile seizures. The least common phenotype is isolated afebrile convulsions in childhood. Generalized seizure types seen include absence, atonic, and myoclonic seizures. Focal seizures arising from the temporal or frontal regions have also been reported (3). Differentiation from the typical child with febrile seizures is suggested by the presence of other individuals in the family with various forms of epilepsy.

Two of the most severe phenotypes reported in families with GEFS+ include myoclonic–astatic epilepsy as described by Doose et al, and Dravet syndrome. About one-third of children with myoclonic-astatic epilepsy have a history of febrile seizures. Boys are more commonly affected. Myoclonic–astatic seizures are the most common manifestation, but myoclonic, atonic, absence and generalized clonic–tonic–clonic seizures are also observed. Tonic seizures may be present, particularly during the night, and nonconvulsive status epilepticus is also seen. Generalized spike–wave discharges are common, as are rhythmic bursts of bi-parietal theta activity. Many patients will go into remission with several years of onset, but the outcome is variable and some patients will be left with substantial cognitive disabilities (4).

Children with Dravet syndrome typically present in the first year of life with febrile hemiclonic seizures or generalized convulsions (5). Children then develop a variety of afebrile seizures, including absence, atonic, myoclonic, or focal seizures. The EEG may initially show focal spikes in the posterior derivations, but later, generalized spike–wave discharges develop in most individuals, and a photoparoxysmal response may been seen in some.


EEG backgrounds are usually normal. Interictal features appear to vary according to the clinical phenotype. Those individuals with febrile seizures alone often have normal EEGs (1). Those with febrile seizures and generalized afebrile seizures may have generalized spike–wave discharges. Patients with the myoclonic-atonic epilepsy (MAE) or Dravet phenotype have the corresponding EEG features. Patients with focal seizures may have focal spikes or focal slowing (3).


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