Chaos theory and the treatment of refractory status epilepticus: Who benefits from prolonged anesthesia, and is there a better way?

Refractory status epilepticus (SE) is a condition of continuous seizure activity in which there is a regular, rapid, succession of spike discharges in the brain. It is incompatible with normal consciousness and is associated with an extremely high morbidity and mortality. Prior to 1990, prevailing opinion held that a brief period of anesthesia (up to two weeks) was to be recommended, but that if SE persisted this was a sign of irreversible brain damage. Therefore support of the patient in SE was not recommended beyond two weeks. On the basis of the theoretical constructs of chaos theory we hypothesized that, for selected cases, anesthesia should be continued indefinitely until the SE resolved. This became the standard of care at the University of Washington and at other institutions. After several years, the accumulating evidence lends support for this hypothesis and we are now able to propose which patients will benefit from such therapy. It is hypothesized that only those patients for whom there is no underlying brain disease, beyond epilepsy, are likely to benefit. Secondly, chaos theory suggests that a strong perturbation will cause a rapid transition from the stable attractor of SE to the stable attractor representing normal consciousness. In certain ways, SE is analogous to ventricular tachycardia, where the cardiac muscle has an abnormally fast rhythm incompatible with proper cardiac function. Therefore the second hypothesis is that a brain perturbation, analogous to defibrillation, may be even more useful than anesthesia in refractory SE.
AuthorsMichael Hutchinson, Phillip D Swanson
JournalMedical hypotheses (Med Hypotheses) Vol. 68 Issue 2 Pg. 439-41 ( 2007) ISSN: 0306-9877 [Print] Scotland
PMID16996698 (Publication Type: Journal Article)
  • Anesthesia
  • Epilepsy (physiopathology, therapy)
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Status Epilepticus (physiopathology, therapy)

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