Epilepsy Coping Fatal

After being diagnosed with epilepsy, one of the utmost concerns in many people’s minds is, “Is epilepsy fatal?” Although the majority of people with epilepsy lead long, full lives, the risk of premature death for epileptics is two to three times higher than in the rest of the population, according to the UK’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Unexpected deaths can occur as a result of:

  • Injuries and accidents
  • Status epilepticus
  • Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).

Possible Death from Seizure Accidents and Injuries

An individual with epilepsy may sustain injuries during a seizure, particularly a grand

mal type of seizure. (Grand mal seizure symptoms include unconsciousness and convulsions). He may, for example, fall down and receive a potentially fatal head injury. Although these types of fatal accidents can occur, they are very rare. Children (and adults) with epilepsy should wear helmets for protection during physical activities such as bicycling or skateboarding.

Status Epilepticus

Status epilepticus is a state of uninterrupted seizure activity. An individual experiencing status epilepticus may have one continuous seizure, or multiple seizures without gaining consciousness in between seizures. If this type of seizure activity lasts longer than five minutes, emergency medical help is necessary.

According to The Epilepsy Foundation of America®, only about 15 percent of individuals with epilepsy will experience status epilepticus. The condition is more common in children and the elderly, but it is more likely to result in death in adults. Although status epilepticus episodes are often completely unprovoked, risk factors include:

  • Discontinuing medication suddenly
  • Febrile seizures in infants
  • Stroke.

Individuals with status epilepticus are at an increased risk of brain damage and death. The risk of death is lower if status seizure activity is less than one hour. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the condition affects approximately 195,000 people in the United States each year, resulting in approximately 42,000 deaths.

Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)

SUDEP is an extremely rare condition in which an individual (usually young to middle-aged) with epilepsy dies suddenly and without a clear cause. This condition is not limited to people with epilepsy, but is twice as likely to occur in someone with epilepsy.

In SUDEP cases, a seizure is often believed to have occurred sometime before death, but there’s no indication that the seizure and death were directly related. More often, the suspected cause of death is a sudden, inexplicable malfunction in the heart or lungs. SUDEP is more common in adults than in children, and risk factors appear to include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Being male
  • Experiencing frequent grand mal seizures
  • Failure to take medication regularly
  • Long-term epilepsy
  • Taking multiple seizure medications
  • Uncontrolled seizures
  • Untreated epilepsy.

After an Epilepsy Diagnosis

It should be reiterated once again that most people with epilepsy go on to live full, active lives. Individuals who are in good health with well-controlled seizures generally have a risk of death similar to the general population.

Resources

Donner, E. J., et al. (2006). Can my child die from http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Epilepsy/Can-My-Child-Die-from-http://www.epilepsyontario.org/client/EO/EOWeb.nsf/web/Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy Patients (SUDEP)

Hanna, N. J., et al. (2002). National clinical audit of epilepsy-related death. Retrieved April 4, 2010, from http://www.nice.org.uk/media/94E/3C/epilepsyreport.pdf

Nashef, L. (n.d.). How does SUDEP occur? Retrieved April 5, 2010, from http://www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/sudep_how

NYU Medical Center Staff. (n.d.). Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Retrieved April 4, 2010, from http://www.med.nyu.edu/cec/epilepsy/sudep.html

The Epilepsy Foundation of America® Staff. (n.d.). Prolonged or serial seizures (status epilepticus). Retrieved April 4, 2010, from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/about/types/types/statusepilepticus.cfm

The Epilepsy Foundation of America® Staff. (n.d.). Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Retrieved April 4, 2010 from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/epilepsyusa/magazine/marapr08/SUDEP.cfm

United Cerebral Palsy Staff. (2009). Is epilepsy life threatening? Retrieved April 4, 2010, from http://www.mychildwithoutlimits.org/?page=is-epilepsy-life-threatening