A comparison of four treatments for generalized convulsive status epilepticus. Veterans Affairs Status Epilepticus Cooperative Study Group

N Engl J Med. 1998 Sep 17;339(12):792-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199809173391202.


Background and methods: Although generalized convulsive status epilepticus is a life-threatening emergency, the best initial drug treatment is uncertain. We conducted a five-year randomized, double-blind, multicenter trial of four intravenous regimens: diazepam (0.15 mg per kilogram of body weight) followed by phenytoin (18 mg per kilogram), lorazepam (0.1 mg per kilogram), phenobarbital (15 mg per kilogram), and phenytoin (18 mg per kilogram). Patients were classified as having either overt generalized status epilepticus (defined as easily visible generalized convulsions) or subtle status epilepticus (indicated by coma and ictal discharges on the electroencephalogram, with or without subtle convulsive movements such as rhythmic muscle twitches or tonic eye deviation). Treatment was considered successful when all motor and electroencephalographic seizure activity ceased within 20 minutes after the beginning of the drug infusion and there was no return of seizure activity during the next 40 minutes. Analyses were performed with data on only the 518 patients with verified generalized convulsive status epilepticus as well as with data on all 570 patients who were enrolled.

Results: Three hundred eighty-four patients had a verified diagnosis of overt generalized convulsive status epilepticus. In this group, lorazepam was successful in 64.9 percent of those assigned to receive it, phenobarbital in 58.2 percent, diazepam plus phenytoin in 55.8 percent, and phenytoin in 43.6 percent (P=0.02 for the overall comparison among the four groups). Lorazepam was significantly superior to phenytoin in a pairwise comparison (P=0.002). Among the 134 patients with a verified diagnosis of subtle generalized convulsive status epilepticus, no significant differences among the treatments were detected (range of success rates, 7.7 to 24.2 percent). In an intention-to-treat analysis, the differences among treatment groups were not significant, either among the patients with overt status epilepticus (P=0.12) or among those with subtle status epilepticus (P=0.91). There were no differences among the treatments with respect to recurrence during the 12-hour study period, the incidence of adverse reactions, or the outcome at 30 days.

Conclusions: As initial intravenous treatment for overt generalized convulsive status epilepticus, lorazepam is more effective than phenytoin. Although lorazepam is no more efficacious than phenobarbital or diazepam plus phenytoin, it is easier to use.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Diazepam / adverse effects
  • Diazepam / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Lorazepam / adverse effects
  • Lorazepam / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenobarbital / adverse effects
  • Phenobarbital / therapeutic use
  • Phenytoin / adverse effects
  • Phenytoin / therapeutic use
  • Status Epilepticus / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Phenytoin
  • Lorazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Phenobarbital