We have used a novel neurophysiological technique in the NeuroScope system in combination with conventional electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor both brainstem and cortical activity simultaneously in real-time in a girl with Rett syndrome. The presenting clinical features in our patient were severe sleep disturbances, irregular breathing in the awake state dominated by Valsalva's type of breathing followed by tachypnoea and very frequent attacks of seizures and vacant spells. Our novel neurophysiological data showed that the patient was a Forceful Breather according to the breathing categories in Rett syndrome. She had frequent abnormal spontaneous brainstem activation (ASBA) preceded by severe attacks of hypocapnoea, which was caused by a combination of Valsalva's type of breathing and tachypnoea and all these together were responsible for the seizures and non-epileptic vacant spells. The ASBA was not detectable in conventional EEG and there were no epileptiform changes in the EEG during the seizures and vacant spells caused by the hypocapnic attacks, therefore these were pseudo-seizures. The record of brainstem activity confirmed that these were autonomic events, a kind of "brainstem epilepsy". We successfully treated the sleep disturbance with Pipamperone, a 5-hydroxytryptophan antagonist of receptor type 2 and we prevented the severe hypocapnoea during Valsalva's type of breathing and during tachypnoea using carbogen (a mixture of 5% carbon dioxide and 95% oxygen), which we gave by inhalation. Our treatment drastically reduced the autonomic events, promoted whole night sleep and significantly improved the quality of life in our patient. She can now participate in normal family activity which was previously impossible before treatment.
Smeets, E. E. J., Julu, P. O., van Waardenburg, D. A., Engerstrom, I. W., Hansen, S., Apartopoulos, F., Curfs, L. M. G., & Schrander-Stumpel, C. T. (2006). Management of a severe forceful breather with Rett syndrome using carbogen. Brain & Development, 28(10), 625-632. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.braindev.2006.04.010