Aim  We observed a dramatic response to the ketogenic diet in several patients with highly refractory epilepsy whose seizure frequency had recently worsened. This study aimed to identify whether this characteristic was a useful indication for the ketogenic diet.

Method  From the 70 patients who received the ketogenic diet during a 3-year period at our institution, we retrospectively selected patients with focal epilepsy. There were 22 children, 13 females and nine males, aged from 5 months to 18 years 6 months (mean 6y 9mo, SD 5y 11mo). Fifteen had symptomatic and seven had cryptogenic focal epilepsy. Seizure frequency 1 week before initiating the ketogenic diet was compared with that at 1 month and at the last visit on the diet.

Results  Eleven patients were responders (defined as reduction of seizures by more than 50%) at 1 month. Responders were higher (p=0.046) in the group with a recent worsening of seizures than in those with stable seizure frequency. Seven patients were still seizure-free at 6 months on the diet. Tolerability was excellent in 10 patients. Five patients stopped the diet because of early side effects.

Interpretation  The ketogenic diet may be a valuable therapeutic option for children with pharmacoresistant focal epilepsy, particularly those with a recent deterioration of seizure control and neurological status. Because of its rapid effect, the ketogenic diet may be a useful support to intravenous emergency drugs in such a situation.