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Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2011 May;4(3):169-81. doi: 10.1177/1756285611403826.

Nonconvulsive status epilepticus: a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge in the intensive care setting.

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Department of Neurology, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany.


Nonconvulsive status epilepticus (NCSE) comprises a group of syndromes that display a great diversity regarding response to anticonvulsants ranging from virtually self-limiting variants to entirely refractory forms. Therefore, treatment on intensive care units (ICUs) is required only for a selection of cases. The aetiology and clinical form of NCSE are strong predictors for the overall prognosis. Absence status epilepticus is commonly seen in patients with idiopathic generalized epilepsy and is rapidly terminated by low-dose of benzodiazepines. The management of complex partial status epilepticus is straightforward in patients with pre-existing epilepsy, but poses major problems if occurring in the context of acute brain lesions. Subtle status epilepticus represents the late stage of undertreated previous overt generalized convulsive status epilepticus and always requires aggressive ICU treatment. Within the intensive care setting, the diagnostic challenge may be seen in the difficulty in delineating nonepileptic conditions such as posthypoxic, metabolic or septic encephalopathies from NCSE. Although all important forms are considered, the focus of this review lies on clinical presentations and electroencephalogram features of comatose patients treated on ICUs and possible diagnostic pitfalls.


anticonvulsant treatment; diagnostic pitfalls; electroencephalogram patterns; encephalopathies; nonconvulsive status epilepticus

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