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Why is Status Epilepticus a Medical Emergency?

Status epilepticus is a condition where a patient is attacked by an episode of seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes or has more than one episode of seizure within a period of 5 minutes. In the latter case, the patient cannot return to the normal level of consciousness between the episodes because of such short duration. These types of seizures happen to be more common in children and elderly adults.

Why is Status Epilepticus a Medical Emergency?

A seizure primarily occurs due to abnormal electrical activity of nerve impulse in the brain. This affects both the mind as well as the body. In case of status epilepticus, the risk increases due to the continuous episode(s) of seizures, which affects the balance of consciousness. Apart from issues like brain infection and head and head injuries, status epilepticus is a major medical emergency because it can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

There can be a wide variety of causes for status epilepticus. For instance, the main cause of status epilepticus among children is an infection in brain combined with high fever. On the contrary, stroke and imbalance in sodium and blood sugar level are the common causes of status epilepticus among adults. External factors that can lead to status epilepticus is drinking too much of alcohol. At times, withdrawal from alcohol after heavy drinking can lead to episodes of status epilepticus. Other risk factors of such condition include genetic diseases like Fragile X Syndrome. An Improper functioning of organs like kidney or liver failure can be a cause of status epilepticus. Patients suffering from Encephalitis, a condition of inflammation of the brain are pretty much prone to status epilepticus.

Broadly, there are two main forms of status epilepticus-

The convulsive type of status epilepticus – This is the most common form and is equally more dangerous. In this type, the patient’s body becomes stiff and he loses consciousness. The patient might find difficult to breathe as the body spasms and jerks. This continues as a cycle if the patient encounters more than one episode of SE.

The non-convulsive type of status epilepticus – This does not include convulsions. The patient may appear to be confused or as if they are daydreaming. He may be unable to speak and behave in an irrational way. It may be difficult for an observer to understand the symptoms of the non-convulsive type.

The general symptoms of status epilepticus include-

  • Muscular spasms.
  • Loss of control over bowel or bladder.
  • Difficulty in breathing.
  • Clenched teeth.
  • Falling.
  • A sort of day-dreaming look.
  • Unusual behavior.

What are the Risks of Status Epilepticus?

The risks of status epilepticus depend on the underlying cause of such seizures. If the underlying reason is stroke or brain injury risks can range from brain damage to even death. Due to such long duration of convulsions, permanent physical disability can easily occur. Head injury is also a very common risk of status epilepticus.

What to do if Someone Has an Episode of Status Epilepticus?

It is advisable that patients of status epilepticus should always keep their emergency medicines near them. A person having a history of epilepsy should always consult a doctor and have an epilepsy care plan. People around should call 911 in case of emergency. It is to be remembered, that such episode of seizures is a case of emergency and the patient will need urgent medical attention. A person diagnosed with epilepsy should never skip the prescribed medicines. Such include anti-seizure drugs which should always be kept handy.


  1. “Status Epilepticus” – MedlinePlus Information: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000695.htm

  2. “Status Epilepticus” – Mayo Clinic Information: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/status-epilepticus/symptoms-causes/syc-20351065

  3. “Status Epilepticus: Emergency Management” – American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Article: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2019/0501/p550.html

  4. “Status Epilepticus: Overview” – Epilepsy Foundation Information: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures/status-epilepticus

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 11, 2023

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