Twenty-six (41%) of 63 consecutive patients with triphasic waves had various types of metabolic encephalopathies while 37 patients (59%) had non-metabolic encephalopathies, usually senile dementia. Triphasic waves were not found to be specific for any single type of metabolic encephalopathy.
Etiology was more closely linked to conscious level at recording than any morphological or distributional feature of the triphasic waves themselves. Thus, all 31 alert patients had non-metabolic encephalopathies while all 13 comatose patients had metabolic encephalopathies.
The second, positive, component (Wave II) most often had the highest voltage while equally maximal Waves I and II occurred next most commonly. Triphasic waves were most often maximally expressed anteriorly.
Among patients with metabolic encephalopathies, a posterior-anterior delay or lag of the wave II peak occurred more commonly than did the better known anterior-posterior lag. Lags occurred with both metabolic and nonmetabolic conditions, but were more common with the former. No difference in quantity or mode of appearance existed between the metabolic and non-metabolic groups when matched for conscious level.
Prognosis for patients with either metabolic or non-metabolic encephalopathies was unfavourable. Only 4 of 24 metabolic and one of 35 non-metabolic patients were well at follow-up over 2 years later.
Forty percent of EEGs with sharp and slow wave complexes (slow spike waves) had sporadically-appearing triphasic waves. The relative amplitudes of the 3 components differed from triphasic waves in other conditions: equally maximal Waves II and III were the most usual form.