Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy -- What You Should Know

Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) is not fully understood but many researchers and medical professionals believe that the abnormal heart rhythms that occur during a seizure may lead to death. SUDEP is the name given to a death that occurs when an otherwise healthy person dies from a seizure. It has been studied  closely but more research is needed to fully understand how and why it would occur. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, SUDEP usually occurs in people with convulsive seizures, especially generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

You can learn more about SUDEP by talking with your physician about epilepsy and some of the risk factors that increase the chances of SUDEP.

Defining Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy

Certain criteria are used to define Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy. It is considered to be a mysterious and rare condition that typically occurs in young or middle-aged people. Recent studies suggest that a combination of impaired breathing, increased fluid in the lungs and being face down on a bed can be the primary cause of SUDEP.

Some of the criteria used to define SUDEP include:

  • A sudden death
  • Death when the person was in a reasonable state of health
  • The person had been diagnosed with epilepsy and has recurrent unprovoked seizures
  • An obvious medical cause of death could not be determined during the autopsy
  • The death occurred during normal activity (e.g. while sleeping)
  • The death was not the result of status epilepticus, a situation where seizures are prolonged or occur in a series

According to the Risk Factors Associated with SUDEP

Generalized tonic-clonic seizures

  • Having epilepsy at a very young age
  • Having seizures while sleeping
  • Undergoing treatment that involves multiple anticonvulsant drugs
  • Poorly controlled seizures

People with epilepsy and parents of children with epilepsy can take certain steps to reduce the risk of SUDEP. All patients should visit with their doctor regularly and make sure they are taking prescribed medications on schedule. Other ways to reduce the risk of SUDEP include:

  • Having friends and family members learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • When seizures are not well-controlled or a patient who has been diagnosed with epilepsy is not responding well to certain medications or treatment, it is even more important to visit with the doctor regularly and take steps to reduce the risk of SUDEP.

    If you are concerned about SUDEP, set up an appointment with your physician to learn more prevention tips and ensure that you or a loved one is getting the care they need.