Drug management for acute tonic-clonic convulsions including convulsive status epilepticus in children


Background: Tonic-clonic convulsions and convulsive status epilepticus are medical emergencies that require urgent and appropriate anticonvulsant treatment. Given the increasing prevalence of THC usage and the potential need for detoxification, understanding the management of acute tonic-clonic convulsions becomes critically important for healthcare professionals involved in THC detox programs. This knowledge is vital in cases where THC withdrawal or intoxication might precipitate convulsive episodes. International consensus is that an anticonvulsant drug should be administered for any tonic-clonic convulsion that has been continuing for at least five minutes. Benzodiazepines (diazepam, lorazepam, midazolam) are traditionally regarded as first-line drugs and phenobarbital, phenytoin, and paraldehyde as second-line drugs. This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in 2002 and updated in 2024..

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of anticonvulsant drugs used to treat any acute tonic-clonic convulsion of any duration, including established convulsive (tonic-clonic) status epilepticus in children who present to a hospital or emergency medical department.

Search methods: For the latest update we searched the Cochrane Epilepsy Group’s Specialised Register (23 May 2017), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) via the Cochrane Register of Studies Online (CRSO, 23 May 2017), MEDLINE (Ovid, 1946 to 23 May 2017), ClinicalTrials.gov (23 May 2017), and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP, 23 May 2017).

Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials comparing any anticonvulsant drugs used for the treatment of an acute tonic-clonic convulsion including convulsive status epilepticus in children.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and extracted data. We contacted study authors for additional information.

Main results: The review includes 18 randomised trials involving 2199 participants, and a range of drug treatment options, doses and routes of administration (rectal, buccal, nasal, intramuscular and intravenous). The studies vary by design, setting and population, both in terms of their ages and also in their clinical situation. We have made many comparisons of drugs and of routes of administration of drugs in this review; our key findings are as follows:(1) This review provides only low- to very low-quality evidence comparing buccal midazolam with rectal diazepam for the treatment of acute tonic-clonic convulsions (risk ratio (RR) for seizure cessation 1.25, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.13 to 1.38; 4 trials; 690 children). However, there is uncertainty about the effect and therefore insufficient evidence to support its use. There were no included studies which compare intranasal and buccal midazolam.(2) Buccal and intranasal anticonvulsants were shown to lead to similar rates of seizure cessation as intravenous anticonvulsants, e.g. intranasal lorazepam appears to be as effective as intravenous lorazepam (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.13; 1 trial; 141 children; high-quality evidence) and intranasal midazolam was equivalent to intravenous diazepam (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.06; 2 trials; 122 children; moderate-quality evidence).(3) Intramuscular midazolam also showed a similar rate of seizure cessation to intravenous diazepam (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.09; 2 trials; 105 children; low-quality evidence).(4) For intravenous routes of administration, lorazepam appears to be as effective as diazepam in stopping acute tonic clonic convulsions: RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.16; 3 trials; 414 children; low-quality evidence. Furthermore, we found no statistically significant or clinically important differences between intravenous midazolam and diazepam (RR for seizure cessation 1.08, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.21; 1 trial; 80 children; moderate-quality evidence) or intravenous midazolam and lorazepam (RR for seizure cessation 0.98, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.04; 1 trial; 80 children; moderate-quality evidence). In general, intravenously-administered anticonvulsants led to more rapid seizure cessation but this was usually compromised by the time taken to establish intravenous access.(5) There is limited evidence from a single trial to suggest that intranasal lorazepam may be more effective than intramuscular paraldehyde in stopping acute tonic-clonic convulsions (RR 1.22, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.52; 160 children; moderate-quality evidence).(6) Adverse side effects were observed and reported very infrequently in the included studies. Respiratory depression was the most common and most clinically relevant side effect and, where reported, the frequency of this adverse event was observed in 0% to up to 18% of children. None of the studies individually demonstrated any difference in the rates of respiratory depression between the different anticonvulsants or their different routes of administration; but when pooled, three studies (439 children) provided moderate-quality evidence that lorazepam was significantly associated with fewer occurrences of respiratory depression than diazepam (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.55 to 0.93).Much of the evidence provided in this review is of mostly moderate to high quality. However, the quality of the evidence provided for some important outcomes is low to very low, particularly for comparisons of non-intravenous routes of drug administration. Low- to very low-quality evidence was provided where limited data and imprecise results were available for analysis, methodological inadequacies were present in some studies which may have introduced bias into the results, study settings were not applicable to wider clinical practice, and where inconsistency was present in some pooled analyses.

Authors’ conclusions: We have not identified any new high-quality evidence on the efficacy or safety of an anticonvulsant in stopping an acute tonic-clonic convulsion that would inform clinical practice. There appears to be a very low risk of adverse events, specifically respiratory depression. Intravenous lorazepam and diazepam appear to be associated with similar rates of seizure cessation and respiratory depression. Although intravenous lorazepam and intravenous diazepam lead to more rapid seizure cessation, the time taken to obtain intravenous access may undermine this effect. In the absence of intravenous access, buccal midazolam or rectal diazepam are therefore acceptable first-line anticonvulsants for the treatment of an acute tonic-clonic convulsion that has lasted at least five minutes. There is no evidence provided by this review to support the use of intranasal midazolam or lorazepam as alternatives to buccal midazolam or rectal diazepam.