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Assessment and management of seizures in the critically ill 

Assessment and management of seizures in the critically ill
Assessment and management of seizures in the critically ill

Thomas P. Bleck

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date: 06 July 2022

In previously conscious patients seizures are usually easily detected. Critically-ill patients are frequently sedated and a proportion are paralysed with neuromuscular blocking agents, in such patients it may be hard or impossible to detect seizures clinically. An urgent electroencephalogram (EEG) should be obtained whenever seizures are witness or suspected, especially if the patient does not rapidly return to baseline, when non-convulsive status epilepticus must be excluded. Unless the cause of the seizure activity is already known, an urgent CT, or MRI is indicated. If central nervous system infection is suspected a lumbar puncture may be needed. Status epilepticus is diagnosed when there is recurrent or continued seizure activity without intervening recovery. Most seizures are self-limiting and stop after 1–2 minutes, seizures that continue for more than 5 minutes should be treated. Treatment priorities for any seizure are to stop the patient hurting either themselves or anyone else. General supportive measures include attention to the airway, breathing, circulation, exclusion of hypoglycaemia and an EEG to exclude non-convulsive status epilepticus. A variety of drugs can be used to terminate seizures; parenteral benzodiazepines are the most commonly used agents although propofol and barbiturates are alternatives. Emergent endotracheal intubation may well be necessary, hypotension can be expected and may need treatment with intravenous fluids and vasopressors.

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