Object. The early pathophysiological features of traumatic brain injury observed in the intensive care unit (ICU) have been described in terms of altered cerebral blood flow, altered brain metabolism, and neurochemical excitotoxicity. Seizures occur in animal models of brain injury and in human brain injury. Previous studies of posttraumatic seizures in humans have been based principally on clinical observations without a systematic approach to electroencephalographic (EEG) recording of seizures. The purpose of this study was to determine prospectively the incidence of convulsive and nonconvulsive seizures by using continuous EEG monitoring in patients in the ICU during the initial 14 days postinjury.
Methods. Ninety-four patients with moderate-to-severe brain injuries underwent continuous EEG monitoring beginning at admission to the ICU (mean delay 9.6 ± 5.4 hours) and extending up to 14 days postinjury. Convulsive and nonconvulsive seizures occurred in 21 (22%) of the 94 patients, with six of them displaying status epilepticus. In more than half of the patients (52%) the seizures were nonconvulsive and were diagnosed on the basis of EEG studies alone. All six patients with status epilepticus died, compared with a mortality rate of 24% (18 of 73) in the nonseizure group (p < 0.001). The patients with status epilepticus had a shorter mean length of stay (9.14 ± 5.9 days compared with 14 ± 9 days [t-test, p < 0.03]). Seizures occurred despite initiation of prophylactic phenytoin on admission to the emergency room, with maintenance at mean levels of 16.6 ± 2.8 mg/dl. No differences in key prognostic factors (such as the Glasgow Coma Scale score, early hypoxemia, early hypotension, or 1-month Glasgow Outcome Scale score) were found between the patients with seizures and those without.
Conclusions. Seizures occur in more than one in five patients during the 1st week after moderate-to-severe brain injury and may play a role in the pathobiological conditions associated with brain injury.