A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study was carried out to determine whether phenytoin administered soon after injury lessens the incidence of epilepsy in the 1st week after severe head trauma. In this study, 244 patients were randomized into either a phenytoin or placebo group. The patients in the phenytoin group were administered phenytoin intravenously or intramuscularly within 24 hours of hospital admission. Patients in the placebo group received intravenous or intramuscular diluent. The patients were switched from parenterally administered phenytoin or placebo as soon as oral doses could be tolerated. Over 78% of the phenytoin patients had plasma concentrations of at least 10 micrograms/ml at 1, 3, and 7 days after injury. There was no significant difference in the percentage of patients having early seizures in the treated and placebo groups (p = 0.99). There was no significant difference in the interval from injury to first seizure between the treated and placebo groups (p = 0.41). The early administration of phenytoin did not lessen the occurrence of seizures in the 1st week after head injury. Since the effectiveness of seizure prophylaxis has not been established, the authors suggest that anticonvulsant drugs be administered only after an early seizure has occurred.