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Most seizures are brief and cease spontaneously within 5 minutes. If a seizure does not stop by itself within 10-15 minutes it becomes a medical emergency. Seizures lasting greater than 30 minutes may lead to brain and bodily injury.
For prolonged seizures, doctors usually use an intravenous injection of diazepam or similar anticonvulsant medication. In young children, doctors sometimes prefer to administer diazepam rectally rather than into a vein. This is a technique that parents and carers can learn to use, if necessary.
A neurologist or paediatrician may consider rectal diazepam in the following situations:
Rectal diazepam is not necessary for children with mild or well-controlled forms of epilepsy.
The pharmacies at the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) and some other Melbourne hospitals supply 'rectal diazepam kits'.
The RCH kit contains:
Diazepam, if given in excess or in addition to certain other drugs, may cause depression or brief cessation of breathing. Therefore, it is recommended that an ambulance be called before proceeding with the rectal diazepam injection. Parents and carers should consider learning basic first aid and resuscitation skills.
Injury to the rectum is possible with rectal diazepam injection but the risk is small with the soft plastic tube supplied with the RCH kit.
The risk of a child having brain damage after a very prolonged seizure is greater than the risks associated with administration of rectal diazepam.
If a child is having a seizure in which he/she is convulsing or is unconscious, it is important to follow simple first aid measures ie. protection from injury, positioning on their side to assist breathing.
Phone for an ambulance, or other medical help to attend, unless you have been instructed otherwise. Indicate to the operator that you are going to administer rectal diazepam as instructed by your child's doctor. Parents and carers who are familiar with rectal diazepam administration and their child's response to rectal diazepam may not need to call for an ambulance.
The doctor will have given instructions on when to give rectal diazepam (what type of seizure, what duration) and how much to give. The usual dose is 0.3 - 0.5mg per kg body weight (max. 10mg).
Attach the soft plastic tube to the syringe and draw up the number of mls that the doctor has prescribed.
If the seizure or cluster has not ceased, administer the diazepam into the rectum. With the child on his/her side, separate the buttocks and gently insert the lubricated plastic tube through the anus for a distance of approximately 5cm, so that there is 2-3cm of the tube still in view.
Inject the prescribed dose.
Remove the tube from the anus and hold buttocks together so that the diazepam does not leak out.
Prepared in accordance with a position statement on the use of rectal diazepam in epilepsy by Somerville ER and Anthony JH (Medical Journal of Australia 1995;163:268-269) and a National Prescribing Service review by O'Sullivan C and Harvey AS in Australian Prescriber 1998;21:35-36.
The efficacy and safety of rectal diazepam was demonstrated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in the USA in 1998, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Rectal diazepam is also available in pre-prepared enema-like kits for easy administration of single doses. None are presently marketed in Australia, though some public hospitals supply such preparations with a hospital prescription. Such products are marketed in the USA (
Diastat) and in the UK (Stesolid).