Medical causes of seizures

Lancet. 1998 Aug 1;352(9125):383-90. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(98)02158-8.


Seizures are commonly encountered in patients who do not have epilepsy. Factors that may provoke such seizures include organ failure, electrolyte imbalance, medication and medication withdrawal, and hypersensitive encephalopathy. There is usually one underlying cause, which may be reversible in some patients. A full assessment should be done to rule out primary neurological disease. Treatment of seizures in medically ill patients is aimed at correction of the underlying cause with appropriate short-term anticonvulsant medication. Phenytoin is ineffective in the management of seizures secondary to alcohol withdrawal, and in those due to theophylline or isoniazid toxicity. Control of blood pressure is important in patients with renal failure and seizures. Non-convulsive status epilepticus should be considered in any patient with confusion or coma of unclear cause, and electroencephalography should be done at the earliest opportunity. Most ill patients with secondary seizures do not have epilepsy, and this should be explained to patients and their families. Only those patients with recurrent seizures and uncorrectable predisposing factors need long-term treatment with anticonvulsant medication.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / complications
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antitubercular Agents / adverse effects
  • Blood Pressure
  • Brain Diseases / complications
  • Bronchodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Coma / diagnosis
  • Confusion / diagnosis
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Electroencephalography
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Isoniazid / adverse effects
  • Multiple Organ Failure / complications
  • Phenytoin / therapeutic use
  • Seizures / chemically induced
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Seizures / etiology*
  • Status Epilepticus / diagnosis
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Theophylline / adverse effects
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / complications


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ethanol
  • Phenytoin
  • Theophylline
  • Isoniazid