PURPOSE: In comatose patients, distinguishing between nonconvulsive status epilepticus and diffuse structural or metabolic encephalopathies is often challenging. Both conditions can generate periodic discharges on EEG with similar morphology and periodicity. We investigated the occurrence of high-frequency oscillations-potential biomarkers of epileptogenesis-on scalp EEG of comatose patients with periodic discharges in the EEG. METHODS: Fifteen patients were included. Patients were divided into three groups, according to underlying etiology: Group 1, seizure related; group 2, structural; group 3, nonstructural. EEG recordings were compared with respect to the presence and rates of gamma (30-80 Hz) and ripples (80-250 Hz). RESULTS: Patients were 23 to 106 years old (median, 68 years); 60% were female. 206 channels were eligible for analysis (median, 15 channels/patient). Overall, 43% of channels showed gamma, and 24% had ripples. Group 2 showed the highest proportion of channels with gamma (47%), followed by group 1 (38%) and group 3 (36%). Mean gamma rates were higher in group 2 (4.65 gamma/min/channel) than in group 1 (1.52) and group 3 (1.44) (P < 0.001). Group 2 showed the highest proportion of channels with ripples (29.2%), followed by group 1 (15%) and group 3 (24.2%). Mean ripple rates were higher in group 2 (5.09 ripple/min/channel) than in group 1 (0.96) and group 3 (0.83) (P < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Fast oscillations, including high-frequency oscillations, can be detected in scalp EEG of patients with altered consciousness. High rates of fast activity may suggest an underlying structural brain lesion. Future studies are needed to determine whether fast oscillations in the setting of acute/subacute brain lesions are a biomarker of subsequent development of human epilepsy.