Sudden unexplained death and injury in epilepsy

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Ficker DM(2000) Sudden unexplained death and injury in epilepsy. Epilepsia 41 Suppl 2: S7–12.

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Abstract: Seizures may be associated with risk of injury or death. Injuries are common in patients with epilepsy, with up to 30% of patients reporting injuries, most commonly blunt trauma and lacerations. Seizures associated with falls increase the risk of injury, but any seizure that is associated with alteration in consciousness may cause injury. Patients with seizures may injure others, especially by causing motor vehicle accidents. Each state has restrictions on driving, requiring seizure-free intervals that range from 3 to 18 months. Mortality is increased in patients with epilepsy. The standardized mortality ratio is increased two to three times in epilepsy cohorts. Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is responsible for 2% to 17% of all deaths in patients with epilepsy, depending on the cohort studied. Population-based studies of SUDEP show a lower overall SUDEP rate compared with clinical trials or epilepsy referral center cohorts. Overall, the risk of sudden death is increased in the epilepsy population by 24 times compared with the general population. Risk factors for SUDEP may include poorly controlled seizures, early onset of epilepsy, and generalized tonic-clonic seizures. The pathophysiology of SUDEP is unknown, but animal data suggest apnea may be the initial factor that results in sudden death.

Keywords: Epilepsy, Seizures, Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, Mortality, Injury


  • General review of moribidity and mortality risks in epilepsy including discussion of SUDEP incidence studies and comparison of findings.


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