What You Need to Know About Status Epilepticus

Rarely is there any discussion that touches on epilepsy that doesn’t involve seizures. Seizures can signal the presence of many underlying neurological conditions. When seizures signal the presence of epilepsy, a number of other serious conditions may arise, key of which is status epilepticus or status epilepsy.

Status epilepticus is not the common epilepsy. It is a serious case of epilepsy, where the patient can have a prolonged epileptic seizure for more than five minutes. If not that, then status epilepticus can present itself in the form of two or more seizures occurring within a five-minute window. Since the seizure is continuous, the patient’s odds of death increase significantly since it becomes inherently difficult to treat the condition with normal medication designed to treat typical seizures. It is, therefore, of immense importance that when a status epilepticus attack sets in, immediate action is taken to safeguard the life of the patient.

Status epilepticus: the convulsive and non-convulsive states

When status epilepticus sets in, it may present itself either in the convulsive or non-convulsive form.

Naturally, a convulsive episode is more common and typically more fatal of the two. Once it’s set in, the patient goes through what is referred to as a ‘grand mal’ seizure, or a tonic-clonic seizure. What happens is that the tonic phase sets in first, prior to the clonic phase. This is the phase where the eyes appear to roll back into the head after you lose your consciousness and the body stiffens. The stiffness is as a result of the contracted muscles, which is also characterized by arching of the back. The patient also has trouble breathing during this phase.

After this has happened, the clonic stage of the status epilepticus comes next. This is the phase where your body appears to jerk, flex, and relax uncontrollably, including the neck, arms, and legs. At this point, if the status epilepticus is temporary, the spasms stop a couple of minutes later and the patient enters a final stage called the postictal period where he/she remains unconscious for a couple more minutes. In the eyes of the untrained, it may be intrinsically difficult to make the connection regarding what’s going on, and it may, therefore, be paramount to dial 911 during this time.

In the case of a non-convulsive episode, the patient rarely, if ever, loses his/her consciousness. They, however, appear to be in an “epileptic twilight” state where there is no bodily reaction in the form of spasms, flex or relax response. This makes it quite difficult to realize that the individual is having an attack.

The victims at greater risk

Statistics have it that up to 25% of the people who have epilepsy can experience status epilepticus, but 15% of epilepsy patients will inevitably go through one. In either case, having medication to keep the condition in check lowers the odds of that happening.

In general, those who experience the following are at greater risk of having status epilepsy:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • HIV
  • Low blood sugar
  • Serious head trauma
  • Liver failure
  • Encephalitis