Introduction

'Introduction' image

People can die from epilepsy, just with asthma, diabetes and many other conditions often assumed to be 'benign'. In fact, there are 70 to 80 epilepsy deaths in Ireland each year. Drowning, head injury and road traffic accidents account for many of these deaths. Likewise, status epilepticus, which is a prolonged seizure or series of seizures from which the person does not recover consciousness, cerebrovascular diseases and chest infections are also common causes of death. Suicide too is 2 - 3 times higher with epilepsy than the rest of the population.

All of the above deaths together account for around 50% of epilepsy deaths. They would be greatly reduced if the seizures of the people dying in these ways were fully eliminated. This is also true for the biggest single cause of epilepsy deaths, which accounts for at least half of them. It is sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).

These premature deaths of otherwise healthy people with epilepsy have no obvious explanation. Usually, the person is found dead without any warning and routine autopsy fails to establish the cause of death. It must be stressed that SUDEP is a non-traumatic death for the person with epilepsy but the effect on his or her loved ones can be devastating.