Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy: a retrospective study

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Lear-Kaul KC, Coughlin L, and Dobersen MJ (2005) Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy: A retrospective study. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 26:1 11–7.

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Abstract: Patients with epilepsy have a mortality rate higher than that of the general population; sudden unexpected death represents a significant category of mortality in these patients. The precise frequency of occurrence of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is not well defined, with a range of 1 in 370 to 1100 in the general epileptic population. A major difficulty with incidence studies is the continued reluctance in using the term SUDEP as a cause of death, making reliance solely on death certificates inconsistent and incomplete. Knowledge about SUDEP remains limited, as no single common risk factor has yet been identified, although predisposing conditions have been suggested. The purpose of this study is to review the association between several clinical variables and SUDEP to elucidate risk factors. The characteristics of the 67 cases in this series correlate with published findings in previous studies. Attributes that may be used to define an at-risk group of epileptics include age less than 40 years, male gender, long history of seizure disorder, undermedication or poorly controlled seizure activity, and mental or physical stress. Education of physicians as to the existence of SUDEP and risk factors is imperative in improving patient education and reduction in mortality.



  • Review of 67 cases of SUDEP from medical examiner records, with 58 of 67 found at the home. 74% of cases had negative or subtherapeutic AED levels. These results are consistent with other SUDEP incidence studies.


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