Seizure Related Deaths - DETECT MS
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Seizure Related Deaths

About This Project

Seizure Related Deaths

Written by Erin R. Mathews, BS, DC
HRST Clinical Director


“Approximately 30% of children with epilepsy have other developmental disabilities. In one study, children with mental retardation and cerebral palsy had a 35% chance of developing epilepsy, children with mental retardation alone had an 8% chance, and children with a brain injury occurring after birth had s 75% chance. In general, the risk of a child with a developmental disability experiencing an unprovoked seizure by age 5 is about 4 times greater than in the general population.” (2013 Epilepsy Foundation of Metropolitan New York) The occurrence of seizures has been reported to be as high as 50% during the lifetime of individuals with disabilities.


“Overall, epilepsy increases the risk of dying by a factor ranging between 1.6 and 3 times that of the background population (Forsgren et al. 2005). How much does epilepsy shorten life, on the average? It depends upon the type of epilepsy. A study in the UK of 564 people with epilepsy followed for 15 years (Gaitatzis et al. 2004) showed that people with epilepsy of unknown cause died an average of two years earlier, but those with a known underlying serious disease causing the epilepsy died an average of 10 years earlier.” One study which followed 245 children with persistent epilepsy for 40 years found that during that period 32 individuals died of causes related to epilepsy. (Web-MD Epilepsy Health Center)


Epilepsy-related causes of death include


  • Deaths related to the underlying illness causing the epilepsy
  • Deaths from conditions related to seizures, such as depression (suicide)
  • Trauma or drowning as the result of seizure activity
  • Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)
  • Status epilepticus
    ( Spotlight Newsletter, August, 2010)


Of the over 40 different seizure types that have been identified, many are due to conditions such as brain tumors or degenerative neurological conditions which may ultimately lead to the death of the individual. Death can also occur due to co-morbid conditions, which exist as part of the same issue or syndrome but do not directly cause seizure activity.


Traumatic deaths related to epilepsy include those from drowning, injuries related to falls and other accidents, such as automobile accidents.


Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy, or SUDEP, is most common in young adults ages 20 to 50. Death occurs from cardiac or respiratory failure due to unknown causes and is most likely to be seen in individuals with poorly controlled generalized tonic clonic seizures and seizures which occur during sleep. Young age when seizure activity began, poor compliance with anti-epileptic medications and use of alcohol are other common factors in these deaths. SUDEP does not necessarily occur during a seizure or in conjunction with recent seizure activity.


Status epilepticus is generally defined as prolonged seizure activity (for 30 minutes or longer) but can also include seizures that occur back-to-back with no post-ictal recovery or seizures with a markedly prolonged post-ictal period. Status epilepticus can occur with any seizure type but is most dangerous with generalized tonic clonic seizures due to swelling that can occur at the base of the brain. In the U.S. there are approximately 50,000 deaths due to status epileptics each year. Death frequently occurs due to fatal disruption of brain physiology or disruption of normal cardiac rhythm. During their lifetime approximately 15% of individuals with epilepsy will experience status epilepticus.


This article was provided by Health Risk Screening, Inc., developer and service provider of the Health Risk Screening Tool (HRST).  For more information visit