Seizures, Status Epilepticus, and Continuous EEG in the Intensive Care Unit

Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2021 Oct 1;27(5):1321-1343. doi: 10.1212/CON.0000000000001012.


Purpose of review: This article discusses the evolving definitions of seizures and status epilepticus in the critical care environment and the role of critical care EEG in both diagnosing seizure activity and serving as a predictive biomarker of clinical trajectory.

Recent findings: Initial screening EEG has been validated as a tool to predict which patients are at risk of future seizures. However, accepted definitions of seizures and nonconvulsive status epilepticus encourage a treatment trial when the diagnosis on EEG is indeterminate because of periodic or rhythmic patterns or uncertain clinical correlation. Similarly, recent data have demonstrated the diagnostic utility of intracranial EEG in increasing the yield of seizure detection. EEG has additionally been validated as a diagnostic biomarker of covert consciousness, a predictive biomarker of cerebral ischemia and impending neurologic deterioration, and a prognostic biomarker of coma recovery and status epilepticus resolution. A recent randomized trial concluded that patients allocated to continuous EEG had no difference in mortality than those undergoing intermittent EEG but could not demonstrate whether this lack of difference was because of studying heterogeneous conditions, examining a monitoring tool rather than a therapeutic approach, or examining an outcome measure (mortality) perhaps more strongly associated with early withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy than to a sustained response to pharmacotherapy.

Summary: Seizures and status epilepticus are events of synchronous hypermetabolic activity that are either discrete and intermittent or, alternatively, continuous. Seizures and status epilepticus represent the far end of a continuum of ictal-interictal patterns that include lateralized rhythmic delta activity and periodic discharges, which not only predict future seizures but may be further classified as status epilepticus on the basis of intracranial EEG monitoring or a diagnostic trial of antiseizure medication therapy. In particularly challenging cases, neuroimaging or multimodality neuromonitoring may be a useful adjunct documenting metabolic crisis. Specialized uses of EEG as a prognostic biomarker have emerged in traumatic brain injury for predicting language function and covert consciousness, cardiac arrest for predicting coma recovery, and subarachnoid hemorrhage for predicting neurologic deterioration due to delayed cerebral ischemia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Seizures / diagnosis
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Status Epilepticus* / diagnosis
  • Status Epilepticus* / drug therapy