Medical Q&As

Epilepsy - sudden death?

I was diagnosed with epilepsy 10 years ago. I am on medication and doing well. However, I was alarmed recently to read that over 1,000 people die a year in Britain from SUDEP (sudden unexplained death in epilepsy). Can you tell me more?

I can understand your sense of alarm in coming across this information on SUDEP (sudden unexplained death in epilepsy). Unexplained death literally means that there is no obvious clinical or pathological explanation for the sudden death. However there are definite associations between SUDEP and heavy alcohol consumption and also with poor compliance with medication. The majority of SUDEP cases have been found to have low levels of anti-epileptic medication in their blood at the time of death and in a significant number of cases the drugs levels were so low that they could not be accurately quantified. The scenario usually arises in people with poorly controlled epilepsy and does not occur when seizures are well controlled. This underlines the importance of taking medication as directed and also adopting a healthy and non-chaotic lifestyle. Since you were diagnosed with epilepsy over 10 years ago and are doing well you should not worry about the possibility of SUDEP occurring to you.