OBJECTIVE: Persons with epilepsy have an increased mortality including a high risk of sudden unexplained death (SUD), also referred to as sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). We aimed to evaluate the risk of SUDEP in comparison to other causes of death and the risk of SUD in persons with and without epilepsy.
METHODS: We undertook a retrospective population-based cohort study of all Danish citizens with and without epilepsy aged 1-49 years during 2007-2009. All deaths in the population were evaluated, and all cases of SUD identified. Primary causes of death in persons with epilepsy were evaluated independently by three neurologists and one neuropediatrician, using the unified SUDEP criteria.
RESULTS: The three most frequent causes of death in persons with epilepsy were cancer (2.38 per 1000 person-years), SUDEP (1.65 per 1000 person-years), and pneumonia (1.09 per 1000 person-years) compared with cancer (.17 per 1000 person-years), accident-related deaths (.14 per 1000 person-years), and cardiovascular disease (.09 per 1000 person-years) in persons without epilepsy. Considering definite, definite plus, and probable cases, the SUDEP incidence was .27 per 1000 person-years (95% confidence interval [CI] = .11-.64) in children aged 1-17 years and 1.21 per 1000 person-years (95% CI = .96-1.51) in adults aged 18-49 years. Adjusted for age and sex, persons with epilepsy younger than 50 years had a 10.8-fold (95% CI = 9.97-11.64, p < .0001) increased all-cause mortality and a 34.4-fold (95% CI = 23.57-50.28, p < .0001) increased risk of SUD compared with persons without epilepsy. SUDEP accounted for 23.3% of all SUD.
SIGNIFICANCE: This nationwide study of all deaths in persons with epilepsy younger than 50 years found a lower SUDEP risk in children compared with adults, and that epilepsy was a major risk factor for SUD in the background population. This underlines the importance of addressing risk factors for SUDEP to prevent premature death.