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Status epilepticus


The batphone rings at 5am. You are given a 5 minute ‘heads up’ by paramedics regarding a 3 year old child they are rushing to you with lights & sirens. She has a history of seizure disorder and has been actively seizing for 45 minutes….

What are you going to do with your 5 minutes ??


  • Assemble your resus team
  • Role designation [Airway. Circulation & IV access. Team leader. Someone to stand by & inform parents]
  • Equipment check: airway basics & adjuncts; suction; IV cannulas, IO needles or EzyIO; IV fluid line (primed and ready to go)
  • Calculate estimated weight of child: [Age + 4] x2; Broselow tape; various iPhone apps…



  • Drug calculator to assist in dosages (hence, avoid error)
  • Print it out !!
  • Anticipate what may be used & draw them up…
  • RSI medications (Thiopentone, suxamethonium, atropine); benzodiazepines; phenytoin (& other anti-epileptic medications)


The child arrives…

The paramedics handover that this 3 year girl has a history of moderate developmental delay and a seizure disorder, the cause of which remains unknown. She takes regular sodium valproate and has not missed any doses recently.

Her mother awoke to a noise in her bedroom this morning and found her convulsing in bed. She administered buccal midazolam whilst calling the paramedics, who also gave a dose of IM midazolam en route to the ED.

On examination she is actively seizing with tonic-clonic movements in all four limbs.

A. Partially obstructed with trismus. Resolved with jaw-thrust/chin lift

B. 100% FiO2 via BVM. Clear chest. Adequate respiratory effort

C. P 170. Cap refill 4 sec. BP 86 systolic. HS dual

D. E1. V2. M1. Seizing. Pupils 3mm (L=R) & reactive

E. Afebrile. BSL 5.6mmol/L. No rashes or skin changes


What is status epilepticus?

Continuous seizure activity for greater than 5 minutes or the occurrence of sequential seizures over a similar period without recovery of consciousness between seizures 

This is a true neurological emergency and is significantly more common in children (compared to adults).


What causes it?

  • Febrile illness is the most common precipitant.
  • Other causes:
  • Infection (particularly meningoencephalitis)
  • Trauma
  • Metabolic derangements (including hypoglycaemia & electrolytes, eg. hyponatraemia)
  • Medication change
  • Toxic ingestion (including anticonvulsants, antidepressants, cardiac medications, alcohol, camphor, amphetamines)
  • Idiopathic
  • Congenital abnormalities.
  • “pseudo-status epilepticus” – a diagnosis of exclusion.


Non-convulsive status

  • Associated with increased morbidity & mortality.
  • Consider the diagnosis in a prolonged post-ictal state (particularly when this is uncommon for the child)
  • Features include altered mental state, confusion, unresponsiveness, abnormal (often subtle) motor movements, twitches, lip-smacking or automatisms.
  • Urgent EEG may confirm the diagnosis.


How will we  manage this case?




  • Bloods (electrolytes, calcium/magnesium/phosphate, glucose)
  • Urinalysis
  • Anticonvulsant levels
  • EEG
  • Others: 12-lead ECG (if toxicologic cause is of concern, eg. tricyclic antidepressant overdose); cultures (blood/urine); lumbar puncture (?meningoencephalitis); toxicology screen; CT-Brain (in setting of trauma or persistent focal findings)



  • First line = benzodiazepines

benzodiazepines status

  • Second line

second line status

  • Third line – typically involves proceeding to intubation…

RSI Drugs (status)

  • Specific treatments & antidotes

Antidotes (Status)

Do NOT forget EMPIRIC ANTIBIOTICS for suspected SEPSIS / CNS infection.


Supportive care

  • Analgesia & adequate sedation
  • Maintain caloric intake
  • Head up, dental hygiene, tube-suction [VAP prevention]
  • DVT prophylaxis
  • Pressure area care
  • Family support & education


Case outcome…

  • Difficult IV access with two quick failed peripheral attempts
  • Further dose of buccal midaz given… However she continues to fit
  • Right tibial IO inserted
  •  20mL/kg bolus of normal saline
  • IO midazolam given
  • Phenytoin commenced (20mg/kg).

At this stage her seizure appears to cease, however she continues to have partial airway obstruction requiring basic manoeuvers.

Our paediatric retrieval service is mobilised to assist in taking the child to a nearby Tertiary facility, as she no doubt needs PICU.

Following a second IO fluid bolus, we get an IV in the right cephalic vein allowing us to take bloods (including valproate level & cultures). Her initial chemistry is unexciting and not surprisingly her blood gas shows a mixed metabolic and respiratory acidosis.

For ongoing airway protection and to facilitate a safe transfer, we decide she needs intubating. An RSI is performed using thiopentone & suxamethonium and she is maintained on morphine & midazolam infusions.

Some two hours after arrival to the department, just when your colleagues arrive for their day-shift the retrieval team take her away to PICU.



Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th Edition.

Rosenʼs Emergency Medicine. Concepts and Clinical Approach. 7th Edition.

Loddenkemper, T & Goodkin, HP. Treatment of Pediatric Status Epilepticus. Current Treatment Options in Neurology (2011) 13:560–573.

Lee, J et al. Guideline for the management of convulsive status epilepticus in infants and children. BCMJ (2011) 53(6):279-285.


  • Chris Partyka is an Emergency Physician and Prehospital & Retrieval Specialist working in Sydney, NSW. He has a keen interest in medical education, ultrasound & coffee. He is the father of two young boys & tries to out-smart his paediatric patient's with an expanding knowledge of cartoons


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3 thoughts on “Status epilepticus”

  1. Pingback: The LITFL Review 120 - LITFL

  2. Thanks for your comments Eric !!

    I think you’re spot on with the use of IM/buccal midaz in the absence of IV/IO access.

    The ‘dot-point’ summary of the case outcome probably doesn’t do justice to the way ‘real-life’ panned out…. We were fortunate enough to have an estimated weight given to us by the paramedics over the phone and therefor had two doses of midazolam drawn up for her arrival. The first (buccal) dose was given simultaneously with our IV-attempts, with the 2nd dose (IO) given within a few minutes of arrival. This stopped her seizure.


  3. Awesome review. Thanks Chris.

    My only questions/comments:

    If she is still seizing on arrival, why not additional immediate IM or buccal midazolam (did I miss this) in preference to two failed peripheral IV attempts, during which valuable time has presumably been lost? The RAMPART study showed the noninferiority of IM midazolam to IV lorazepam. Why not use it as first line in the ED, especially where no IV is in place or if you suspect difficulty in IV placement.

    More generally, I would love to see the FOAMed movement give more emphasis in these discussions to prehospital management. FOAM has the potential to change the face of medicine, but its penetration in the prehospital environment is so far limited. As a paramedic and paramedic instructor with an academic science background, I would love to see more robust discussion of prehospital issues.

    Eric Jaeger