Antiepileptic drugs in critically ill patients

Crit Care. 2018 Jun 7;22(1):153. doi: 10.1186/s13054-018-2066-1.


Background: The incidence of seizures in intensive care units ranges from 3.3% to 34%. It is therefore often necessary to initiate or continue anticonvulsant drugs in this setting. When a new anticonvulsant is initiated, drug factors, such as onset of action and side effects, and patient factors, such as age, renal, and hepatic function, should be taken into account. It is important to note that the altered physiology of critically ill patients as well as pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions such as renal replacement therapy, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and target temperature management may lead to therapeutic failure or toxicity. This may be even more challenging with the availability of newer antiepileptics where the evidence for their use in critically ill patients is limited.

Main body: This article reviews the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of antiepileptics as well as application of these principles when dosing antiepileptics and monitoring serum levels in critically ill patients. The selection of the most appropriate anticonvulsant to treat seizure and status epileptics as well as the prophylactic use of these agents in this setting are also discussed. Drug-drug interactions and the effect of nonpharmacological interventions such as renal replacement therapy, plasma exchange, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation on anticonvulsant removal are also included.

Conclusion: Optimal management of antiepileptic drugs in the intensive care unit is challenging given altered physiology, polypharmacy, and nonpharmacological interventions, and requires a multidisciplinary approach where appropriate and timely assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring plans are in place.

Keywords: Antiepileptic drugs; Critical care; Drug-drug Interaction; Pharmacodynamics; Pharmacokinetics; Seizure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Biological Availability
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration
  • Intensive Care Units / trends
  • Metabolism / physiology
  • Protein Binding


  • Anticonvulsants