Status epilepticus is a serious seizure disorder in which seizures do not stop. A seizure is a sudden disruption of the brain's normal electrical activity, which can cause a loss of consciousness and make the body twitch and jerk. This condition is a medical emergency.
The characteristic symptom of status epilepticus is seizures occurring so frequently that they appear to be one continuous seizure. These seizures include severe muscle contractions and difficulty breathing. Permanent damage can occur to the brain and heart if treatment is not immediate.
Status epilepticus is most often caused by not taking anticonvulsant medication as prescribed. It can also be caused by an underlying condition, such as meningitis, sepsis, encephalitis, brain tumor, head trauma, extremely high fever, low glucose levels, or exposure to toxins.
Status epilepticus is diagnosed according to its characteristic symptoms. The doctor will order tests to look for the cause of the seizures. These may include blood tests, an electrocardiogram to check for an abnormal heart rhythm; an electroencephalogram (EEG) to check electrical activity in the brain, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to check for brain tumors or signs of damage to the brain tissue.
A person having a seizure should never be restrained. A child with status epilepticus should be taken to the hospital immediately. There, medical personnel will stabilize the child with intravenous (IV) anticonvulsant drugs and fluids. Other medications may be given intravenously to stabilize the child until the seizures stop. The child may need a tube inserted through his or her nose or throat to maintain a good airway for breathing, and he or she may also need to receive oxygen. General anesthesia may be needed if status epilepticus resists treatment. The outlook for recovery in children is better than in adults.