Involuntary movements of cerebral origin (stiffness followed by clonic movements), accompanied by a loss of consciousness, and often urinary incontinence (generalized tonic-clonic seizures).
In pregnant women, eclamptic seizures require specific medical and obstetrical care. Refer to the guide Essential obstetric and newborn care, MSF.
During a seizure
- Protect from trauma, maintain airway, place patient in ‘recovery position’, loosen clothing.
- Most seizures are quickly self-limited. Immediate administration of an anticonvulsant is not systematic. If generalized seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, use diazepam to stop it:
Children: 0.5 mg/kg preferably rectally a Citation a. For rectal administration, use a syringe without a needle, or cut a nasogastric tube, CH8, to a length of 2-3 cm and attach it to the tip of the syringe. without exceeding 10 mg
IV administration is possible (0.3 mg/kg over 2 or 3 minutes), only if means of ventilation are available (Ambu bag and mask).
Adults: 10 mg rectally or by slow IV
In all cases:
- If seizure continues, repeat dose once after 10 minutes.
- In infants and elderly patients, monitor respiratory rate and blood pressure.
- If seizure continues after the second dose, treat as status epilepticus.
The patient is no longer seizing
- Look for the cause of the seizure and evaluate the risk of recurrence.
- Keep diazepam and glucose available in case the patient starts seizing again.
Several distinct seizures without complete restoration of consciousness in between or an uninterrupted seizure lasting more than 30 minutes.
- Protect from trauma, loosen clothing, maintain airway and administer oxygen as required.
- Insert an intravenous or intraosseus line.
- Treat for hypoglycaemia (see Hypoglycaemia, Chapter 1).
- If 2 doses of diazepam have not stopped the seizures, use phenytoin or phenobarbital if phenytoin is not available or if seizures persist despite phenytoin.
250 mg in 5 ml ampoule
Do not dilute phenytoin in glucose. Do not administer via a line used for glucose solution administration. Use a large catheter. Check the insertion site and for blood backflow (risk of necrosis in the event of extravasation). After each infusion, rinse with 0.9% sodium chloride to limit local venous irritation.
200 mg in 1 ml ampoule
For doses less than 1 ml, use a 1 ml syringe graduated 0.01 ml to draw the phenobarbital.
- Determine the cause of the fever. Give paracetamol (see Fever, Chapter 1).
- In children under 3 years, there is usually no risk of later complications after simple febrile seizures and no treatment is required after the crisis. For further febrile episodes, give paracetamol PO.
Hypoglycaemia: administer glucose by slow IV injection to all patients who do not regain consciousness, to patients with severe malaria and to newborns and malnourished children. When possible, confirm hypoglycaemia (reagent strip test).
Withdrawal of antiepileptic therapy in a patient being treated for epilepsy should be managed over a period of 4-6 months with progressive reduction of the doses. An abrupt stop of treatment may provoke severe recurrent seizures.
- A first brief seizure does not need further protective treatment. Only patients with chronic repetitive seizures require further regular protective treatment with an antiepileptic drug, usually over several years.
- Once a diagnosis is made, abstention from treatment may be recommended due to the risks associated with treatment. However, these risks must be balanced with the risks of aggravation of the epilepsy, ensuing seizure-induced cerebral damage and other injury if the patient is not treated.
- It is always preferable to start with monotherapy. The effective dose must be reached progressively and symptoms and drug tolerance evaluated every 15 to 20 days.
- An abrupt interruption of treatment may provoke status epilepticus. The rate of dose reduction varies according to the length of treatment; the longer the treatment period, the longer the reduction period (see Iatrogenic causes). In the same way, a change from one antiepileptic drug to another must be made progressively with an overlap period of a few weeks.
- First line treatments for generalised tonic-clonic seizures in children under 2 years are carbamazepine or phenobarbital, in older children and adults sodium valproate or carbamazepine.
- sodium valproate PO
Adults: initial dose of 300 mg 2 times daily; increase by 200 mg every 3 days if necessary until the optimal dose has been reached (usually 500 mg to 1 g 2 times daily).
Children over 20 kg: initial dose of 200 mg 2 times daily irrespective of weight; increase the dose progressively if necessary until the optimal dose has been reached (usually 10 to 15 mg/kg 2 times daily).
- carbamazepine PO
Adults: initial dose of 100 to 200 mg once or 2 times daily; increase the dose every week by 100 to 200 mg, up to 400 mg 2 to 3 times daily (max. 1600 mg daily)
Children 1 month and over: initial dose of 5 mg/kg once daily or 2.5 mg/kg 2 times daily; increase the dose every week by 2.5 to 5 mg/kg, up to 5 mg/kg 2 to 3 times daily (max. 20 mg/kg daily)
- phenobarbital PO
Adults: initial dose of 2 mg/kg once daily (max. 100 mg); increase the dose progressively up to 6 mg/kg daily if necessary
Children: initial dose of 3 to 4 mg/kg once daily at bedtime; increase the dose progressively up to 8 mg/kg daily if necessary
- (a)For rectal administration, use a syringe without a needle, or cut a nasogastric tube, CH8, to a length of 2-3 cm and attach it to the tip of the syringe.