Effects of Epileptiform Activity on Discharge Outcome in Critically Ill Patients

Epileptiform activity (EA) is associated with worse outcomes including increased risk of disability and death. However, the effect of EA on the neurologic outcome is confounded by the feedback between treatment with anti-seizure medications (ASM) and EA burden. A randomized clinical trial is challenging due to the sequential nature of EA-ASM feedback, as well as ethical reasons. However, some mechanistic knowledge is available, e.g., how drugs are absorbed. This knowledge together with observational data could provide a more accurate effect estimate using causal inference. We performed a retrospective cross-sectional study with 995 patients with the modified Rankin Scale (mRS) at discharge as the outcome and the EA burden defined as the mean or maximum proportion of time spent with EA in six-hour windows in the first 24 hours of electroencephalography as the exposure. We estimated the change in discharge mRS if everyone in the dataset had experienced a certain EA burden and were untreated. We combined pharmacological modeling with an interpretable matching method to account for confounding and EA-ASM feedback. Our matched groups' quality was validated by the neurologists. Having a maximum EA burden greater than 75% when untreated had a 22% increased chance of a poor outcome (severe disability or death), and mild but long-lasting EA increased the risk of a poor outcome by 14%. The effect sizes were heterogeneous depending on pre-admission profile, e.g., patients with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) or acquired brain injury (ABI) were more affected. Interventions should put a higher priority on patients with an average EA burden higher than 10%, while treatment should be more conservative when the maximum EA burden is low.

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