Status epilepticus: risk factors and complications

Epilepsia. 2000;41 Suppl 2:S23-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1157.2000.tb01521.x.


Status epilepticus is common and associated with significant mortality and complications. It affects approximately 50 patients per 100,000 population annually and recurs in >13%. History of epilepsy is the strongest single risk factor for generalized convulsive status epilepticus. More than 15% of patients with epilepsy have at least one episode of status epilepticus and low antiepileptic drug levels are a potentially modifiable risk factor. Other risks include young age, genetic predisposition, and acquired brain insults. Fever is a very common risk in children, as is stroke in adults. Mortality rates are 15% to 20% in adults and 3% to 15% in children. Acute complications result from hyperthermia, pulmonary edema, cardiac arrhythmias, and cardiovascular collapse. Long-term complications include epilepsy (20% to 40%), encephalopathy (6% to 15%), and focal neurologic deficits (9% to 11%). Neuronal injury leading to temporal lobe epilepsy is probably mediated by excess excitation via activation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of glutamate receptors and consequent elevated intracellular calcium that causes acute necrosis and delayed apoptotic cell death. Some forms of nonconvulsive status epilepticus may also lead to neuronal injury by this mechanism, but others may not. Based on clinical and experimental observations, complex partial status epilepticus is more likely to result in neuronal injury similar to generalized convulsive status epilepticus. Absence status epilepticus is much less likely to result in neuronal injury, and complications because it may be mediated primarily through excess inhibition. Future research strategies to prevent complications of status epilepticus include the study of new drugs (including NMDA antagonists, new drug delivery systems, and drug combinations) to stop seizure activity and prevent acute and delayed neuronal injury that leads to the development of epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis
  • Brain Diseases / epidemiology
  • Brain Diseases / etiology
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Cell Count
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Necrosis
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sclerosis
  • Status Epilepticus / complications*
  • Status Epilepticus / epidemiology*
  • Status Epilepticus / mortality
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects


  • Anticonvulsants