• Anesthetics;
  • Intravenous [therapeutic use];
  • Anticonvulsants [therapeutic use];
  • Propofol [therapeutic use];
  • Status Epilepticus [drug therapy];
  • Thiopental [therapeutic use];
  • Adult;
  • Humans



Failure to respond to antiepileptic drugs in uncontrolled seizure activity such as refractory status epilepticus (RSE) has led to the use of anaesthetic drugs. Coma is induced with anaesthetic drugs to achieve complete control of seizure activity. Thiopental sodium and propofol are popularly used for this purpose. Both agents have been found to be effective. However, there is substantial lack of evidence as to which of the two drugs is better in terms of clinical outcome.


To compare the efficacy, adverse effects, and short- and long-term outcomes of RSE treated with one of the two anaesthetic agents, thiopental sodium or propofol.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Epilepsy Group Specialized Register (10 May 2012), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL Issue 4 of 12, The Cochrane Library 2012), and MEDLINE (1946 to May week 1, 2012). We also searched (10 May 2012), The South Asian Database of Controlled Clinical Trials, and IndMED (a bibliographic database of Indian Medical Journals).

Selection criteria

All randomised or quasi-randomised controlled studies (regardless of blinding) of control of RSE using either thiopental sodium or propofol.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors screened the search results and reviewed abstracts of relevant and eligible trials before retrieving the full text publications.

Main results

One study was available for review. This study was a small, single-blind, multicentre trial studying adults with RSE and receiving either propofol or thiopental sodium for the control of seizure activity (Rossetti 2011). This study showed a wide confidence interval suggesting that the drugs may differ in efficacy up to more than two-fold. There was no evidence of a difference between the drugs with respect to the outcome measures such as control of seizure activity and functional outcome at three months.

Authors' conclusions

There is lack of robust and randomised controlled evidence that can clarify the efficacy of propofol and thiopental sodium over each other in the treatment of RSE. There is a need for large, randomised controlled trials for this serious condition.

Plain Language Summary

Propofol versus thiopental sodium for the treatment of refractory status epilepticus

Persistent convulsions are a major medical emergency associated with significant morbidity and mortality. At times, these convulsions fail to respond to first- and second-line drug therapy and may be observed in up to 31% of patients suffering from persistent seizure or convulsive activities. Persistent seizure activity may become refractory to antiepileptic drugs. Anaesthetics such as thiopental sodium and propofol are frequently given for control of seizures in such situations. Both agents have inherent side effects and complications. This review appraises the evidence for the these anaesthetic drugs in controlling seizure activity in patients with RSE.

There is a lack of good-quality evidence to support the choice of anaesthetic drug for the treatment of patients with RSE. Only one trial could be identified, which was terminated early due to recruitment problems. The two drugs did not show any difference among each other. The only difference noted was the requirement of prolonged mechanical ventilation for patients in the thiopental group. This could be due to the long half-life of the drug. There is a clear need for a large randomised controlled trial to study the efficacy of anaesthetic agents in the treatment of RSE.