Management of refractory status epilepticus in adults: still more questions than answers

Lancet Neurol. 2011 Oct;10(10):922-30. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(11)70187-9.


Refractory status epilepticus (RSE) is defined as status epilepticus that continues despite treatment with benzodiazepines and one antiepileptic drug. RSE should be treated promptly to prevent morbidity and mortality; however, scarce evidence is available to support the choice of specific treatments. Major independent outcome predictors are age (not modifiable) and cause (which should be actively targeted). Recent recommendations for adults suggest that the aggressiveness of treatment for RSE should be tailored to the clinical situation. To minimise intensive care unit-related complications, focal RSE without impairment of consciousness might initially be approached conservatively; conversely, early induction of pharmacological coma is advisable in generalised convulsive forms of the disorder. At this stage, midazolam, propofol, or barbiturates are the most commonly used drugs. Several other treatments, such as additional anaesthetics, other antiepileptic or immunomodulatory compounds, or non-pharmacological approaches (eg, electroconvulsive treatment or hypothermia), have been used in protracted RSE. Treatment lasting weeks or months can sometimes result in a good outcome, as in selected patients after encephalitis or autoimmune disorders. Well designed prospective studies of RSE are urgently needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation
  • Status Epilepticus / diagnosis*
  • Status Epilepticus / epidemiology
  • Status Epilepticus / mortality
  • Status Epilepticus / therapy*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Benzodiazepines