Cardiorespiratory findings in sudden unexplained/unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP)

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Stöllberger C and Finsterer J (2004) Cardiorespiratory findings in sudden unexplained/unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Epilepsy Res 59:1 51–60.

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Abstract: Sudden unexplained/unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), with an incidence of 0.35-9.3/1000 patient-years depending on the severity of epilepsy, remains a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge. Potential pathomechanisms comprise cardiac arrhythmia, due to myocardial ischemia, electrolyte disturbances, arrhythmogenic drugs, or transmission of the epileptic activity via the autonomic nervous system to the heart, and central or obstructive apnea. In most studies on SUDEP, data are lacking about the family and patient's own clinical history, cardiovascular symptoms, concomitant diseases and prior findings. Whether arterial hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, other neurologic disorders, lung diseases, smoking or electrolyte disturbances are risk factors for SUDEP is unknown. Whereas cardiac dysfunction during seizures has been documented by electrocardiography, and cardiac abnormalities are found in up to 33% of SUDEP cases autoptically, investigations between seizures found only little cardiac abnormalities. More knowledge about the cardiovascular and pulmonary status of epileptic patients during, immediately after and between seizures is needed, which may contribute to better understand and possibly prevent SUDEP by measures like "cardioprotective" drugs, respiratory therapy or implantation of a cardioverter/defibrillator.

Keywords: Epilepsy; SUDEP; Sudden death; Arrhythmia


  • Review of SUDEP pathomechanisms.


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