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The Interpretation of the EEG in Stupor and Coma

Brenner, Richard P. MD

doi: 10.1097/01.nrl.0000178756.44055.f6
Original Article

This review discusses a variety of causes of stupor and coma and associated electroencephalographic (EEG) findings. These include metabolic disturbances such as hepatic or renal dysfunction, which are often characterized by slowing of background rhythms and triphasic waves. Hypoxia and drug intoxications can produce a number of abnormal EEG patterns such as burst suppression, alpha coma, and spindle coma. Structural lesions, either supra- or infratentorial, are reviewed. EEGs in the former may show focal disturbances such as delta and theta activity, epileptiform abnormalities, and attenuation of faster frequencies. In infratentorial lesions, the EEG may appear normal, particularly with a pontine lesion. Some patients may be encephalopathic because of ongoing epileptic activity with minimal or no motor movements. This entity, nonconvulsive status epilepticus (NCSE), is difficult to diagnose in obtunded/comatose patients, and an EEG is required to verify the diagnosis and to monitor treatment. Several EEG patterns and their interpretation in suspected cases of NCSE such as periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges (PLEDs), bilateral independent periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges (BIPLEDs), generalized periodic epileptiform discharges (GPEDs), and triphasic waves are reviewed. Other entities discussed include the locked-in syndrome, neocortical death, persistent vegetative state, brainstem death, and brain death.

From the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Reprints: Richard P. Brenner, MD, WPIC, Room 111, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.