Review| Volume 49, P294-297, August 2015

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Can anesthetic treatment worsen outcome in status epilepticus?

  • Raoul Sutter
    Corresponding author at: Department of Intensive Care Medicine & Neurology, University Hospital Basel, Petersgraben 4, CH-4031 Basel, Switzerland.
    Clinic for Intensive Care Medicine, University Hospital Basel, Switzerland

    Division of Clinical Neurophysiology, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Basel, Basel, Switzerland
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  • Peter W. Kaplan
    Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, MD, USA
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      • There is no strong evidence for the use of anesthetics in treating status epilepticus.
      • Randomized trials in this context are lacking.
      • Recently, the use of anesthetics in treating status epilepticus was associated with death.
      • These results call for caution in the use of anesthetics in treating status epilepticus.
      • The rationale and conflicting implications of anesthetics are discussed.


      Status epilepticus refractory to first-line and second-line antiepileptic treatments challenges neurologists and intensivists as mortality increases with treatment refractoriness and seizure duration. International guidelines advocate anesthetic drugs, such as continuously administered high-dose midazolam, propofol, and barbiturates, for the induction of therapeutic coma in patients with treatment-refractory status epilepticus. The seizure-suppressing effect of anesthetic drugs is believed to be so strong that some experts recommend using them after benzodiazepines have failed. Although the rationale for the use of anesthetic drugs in patients with treatment-refractory status epilepticus seems clear, the recommendation of their use in treating status epilepticus is based on expert opinions rather than on strong evidence. Randomized trials in this context are lacking, and recent studies provide disturbing results, as the administration of anesthetics was associated with poor outcome independent of possible confounders. This calls for caution in the straightforward use of anesthetics in treating status epilepticus. However, there are still more questions than answers, and current evidence for the adverse effects of anesthetic drugs in patients with status epilepticus remains too limited to advocate a change of treatment algorithms.
      In this overview, the rationale and the conflicting clinical implications of anesthetic drugs in patients with treatment-refractory status epilepticus are discussed, and remaining questions are elaborated.
      This article is part of a Special Issue entitled “Status Epilepticus”.


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