General anesthesia has been recommended to control convulsive status epilepticus that is refractory to conventional anticonvulsant therapy. Halothane has been the recommended agent, but without experimental justification. Isoflurane, which has no reported organ toxicity and produces electrographic suppression at clinically useful concentrations in normal humans, should be a better volatile anesthetic for this purpose. The efficacy and safety of isoflurane administered to control convulsive status epilepticus were assessed on 11 occasions in nine patients in seven North American hospitals. Isoflurane, administered for 1-55 h, stopped seizures in all patients and was able to be titrated to produce burst-suppression patterns on electroencephalograms. Blood pressure support with iv fluids and/or pressor infusions was required in all of the patients. Seizures resumed upon discontinuation of isoflurane on eight of 11 occasions. Six of the nine patients died. The three survivors sustained cognitive deficits. In one patient urine fluoride concentrations were elevated, although not to nephrotoxic levels. These cases suggest that isoflurane 1) is an effective, rapidly titratable anticonvulsant; 2) does not reverse underlying causes of the refractory seizures; and 3) usually necessitates hemodynamic support with fluids and/or pressors. Isoflurane may be administered for seizures, but only when iv agents in anesthetic doses are ineffective or produce unacceptable side effects.