Rescue Medications for Home Treatment of Acute Seizures


Rescue Medications for Home Treatment of Acute Seizures

Peter Wolf1 and Rūta Mameniškienė2,3

1 Danish Epilepsy Centre, Dianalund, Denmark
2 Clinic of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
3 Epilepsy Centre, Department of Neurology, Vilnius University Hospital Santariškių Klinikos, Vilnius, Lithuania

Epilepsy is a chronic disease and is treated with continuous medications aiming at sustained complete seizure control. However, in its course, emergency situations may sometimes arise that require acute interventions. In some epileptic conditions, seizures occur only occasionally but in series or prolonged states. These require rapid action, whereas continuous treatment may not be indicated. Rescue medication (RM) can also be used to prevent seizures when risk is perceived.


The home use of RMs can often help patients avoid emergency hospital admissions.

Conditions requiring acute drug administration

Febrile and nonfebrile serial seizures of childhood

Febrile seizures (FS) are the most frequent type of acute epileptic seizures and occur at the ages of 6 months to 5 years. There is a strong genetic predisposition. Although simple, uncomplicated FS have no sequelae, febrile status epilepticus has been correlated with the development of hippocampal sclerosis with the consequence of chronic temporal lobe epilepsy. It is therefore highly important that FS be treated as early and effectively as possible to prevent prolonged seizures. FS are often a once-in-a-lifetime event and not considered an indication for continuous antiepileptic drug (AED) treatment. However, recurrence occurs in up to one-third of children.


The risk of recurrence of FS is high enough that parents of a child who has had one should be provided with an RM and instructed how to administer it.

Recurrent prolonged and serial seizures unconnected with febrile illness are much more common in children than in adults and, in some patients, have a high risk of status epilepticus. RM should be made available.

Epilepsies with habitual clusters of seizures

In some patients with epilepsy, seizures habitually occur in clusters of several seizures on one or subsequent days. These clusters may affect ability to work, independence, and life quality much more than single seizures. In many cases, clusters can be effectively prevented by self-application of an RM after the first seizure.

Prodromes and auras

Some patients have “warnings” before their seizures. These can be auras—that is, subjective symptoms that seem to precede the seizure but actually are the first seizure symptoms. These are quite common but usually last only seconds or fractions of seconds, too short for any drug intervention. In some patients, however, the auras last on the order of minutes, and a rapidly acting drug can possibly interrupt these.

A more rare kind of warning is the prodrome, which precedes a seizure for periods from 30 min upwards. Sometimes prodromes represent increased subclinical seizure activity or very mild forms of nonconvulsive status epilepticus, and sometimes their background cannot be clarified. They may be registered by the patients themselves or observed as behavioral changes by others. They are an indication for RM only if they stand out clearly from the habitual interictal state. In these cases, an oral benzodiazepine (BZD) can prevent an imminent seizure.

image CAUTION!

Prodromes may impair a patient’s ability to use RM as prescribed. It may therefore be necessary to have a family member or caregiver to administer it.

Stress convulsions, provoked and lifestyle seizures, and social indications

Sleep disturbances increase the risk of seizures in many patients, especially when combined with excessive alcohol intake. Some patients with infrequent seizures even have exclusively provoked seizures that may also result from excessive psychophysical stress. They may be aware of the relationship but not necessarily willing to change their lifestyles. Prophylactic intake of an oral BZD at perceived risk can protect them against seizures. Prophylactic BZDs may also be recommended in cases of predictable sleep disturbances caused by overnight or transcontinental travel. People who travel a lot or have experienced a provoked seizure should have a small supply of a suitable BZD available.

Likewise, seizures can be prevented in socially important or potentially stigmatizing situations such as church services, the theater, concerts, and sports events, or when the patient is in the spotlight, as when performing at cultural, political, or scientific events, applying for a job, or presenting a project to a committee.

Reflex epileptic seizures (e.g., hot water epilepsy)

Reflex epilepsies are conditions where epileptic seizures habitually are precipitated by qualitatively, often even quantitatively, well-defined sensory or cognitive stimuli. Most patients also have spontaneous seizures that require continuous AED treatment. Others have only provoked seizures, or treatment controls the spontaneous but not the reflex seizures. If the seizure trigger cannot be avoided or attenuated (such as by the use of dark glasses to avoid photosensitive seizures), RM can be applied before the patient is exposed to the trigger. The best-known example is hot water epilepsy, a condition particularly common in South India, in which complex partial seizures habitually are provoked by pouring hot water over the head. In most cases, the application of 5–10 mg clobazam (CLB) 60–90 min before taking the head bath fully controls the seizures even without continuous AED treatment.

Drugs for acute anticonvulsive intervention

Benzodiazepines (BZDs)

Whereas BZDs are rarely used for sustained epilepsy treatment because of frequent development of secondary tolerance, they are clearly the first-line rescue medicines due to their rapid action and high anticonvulsant effect. The principal adverse effects are sedation and respiratory suppression, but these effects have not been reported to cause serious problems in studies of home RM. BZDs are differentiated from each other mainly by their pharmacokinetic properties.

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Mar 12, 2017 | Posted by in NEUROLOGY | Comments Off on Rescue Medications for Home Treatment of Acute Seizures

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