Conference Coverage

Skip CTs for breakthrough seizures in chronic epilepsy



– Head CTs for breakthrough seizures in chronic epilepsy are useful for known structural triggers such as brain tumors, but they don’t change management for most patients, according to a review from the SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, N.Y., emergency department.

Over the shoulder shot of senior medical scientist working with CT brain scan images on a personal computer in laboratory. gorodenkoff/Getty Images

“Nonselective use of ED neuroimaging in patients with no new neurological findings” and no known structural problem, is “very low yield, and increases the use of hospital resources and radiation exposure without impacting the immediate care,” concluded investigators led by Shahram Izadyar, MD, an epileptologist and associate professor of neurology at the university.

In short, CTs for breakthrough seizures – routine in many EDs – usually are a waste of time and money. Absent a known structural cause, “there really isn’t a reason to do imaging,” he said at the American Epilepsy Society annual meeting.

Dr. Izadyar wanted to look into the issue after noticing how common CTs were among his breakthrough patients. He and his team reviewed 90 adults with an established diagnosis of epilepsy and on at least one antiepileptic who presented to the university ED for breakthrough seizures during 2017-2018; 39 (43.3%) had head CTs, 51 (56.7%) did not.

CT changed management in three of the four patients (4.4%) who had a known brain tumor, leading, for instance, to steroids for increased tumor edema. The rest of the patients had nonfocal exams, and imaging had no impact on management.

There was no rhyme or reason why some people got CTs and others didn’t; it seemed to be dependent on the provider. Defensive medicine probably had something to do with it, as well as saving time by ordering a CT instead of doing a neurologic exam, Dr. Izadyar said.

People aren’t going to stop doing defensive medicine, but even a small reduction in unnecessary CTs would “be a positive change.” There’s the cost issue, but also the radiation exposure, which is considerable when people end up in the ED every few months for breakthrough seizures, he said.

There were no differences between the CT and no-CT groups in the suspected causes of breakthroughs (P = .93). About half the cases were probably because of noncompliance, about a quarter from sleep deprivation, and the rest from a change in seizure medication or some other issue.

Dr. Izadyar said the next step is taking the findings to his ED colleagues, and perhaps calculating how much money the university would save by skipping CTs in chronic epilepsy patients with no known structural problem.

There were slightly more men than women in the study, and the mean age was 38 years.

There was no industry funding, and the investigators didn’t have any relevant disclosures.

SOURCE: Ali S et al. AES 2019. Abstract 1.213.

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