Can you die from epilepsy?

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Can you die from epilepsy?

The disease of epilepsy is manifested by characteristic seizures, as a result of which the patient can get injured. For many people with epilepsy, the most acute question is whether it is fatal, is it possible to die from epilepsy?

We want to reassure you right away, epilepsy does not belong to the category of fatal diseases! Then where did the myths come from that the disease is fatal?

Epilepsy is a chronic disease of the central nervous system, in which in the cerebral cortex foci of excitation appear that can cause convulsions.

According to statistics, mortality among patients with epilepsy is 1.5-3 higher than in people who do not have this pathology. Especially high mortality is observed in patients under 40 years of age and with a severe course of the disease. If a patient has absences as the only type of seizure , then his mortality rate is almost the same as in the general population. The most common cause of death is the development of status epilepticus of generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Mortality in this case reaches 10% of all deaths among patients with epilepsy.   

Men die from the disease more often than women, the mortality rate is higher when no more than 10 years have passed since the diagnosis was made.

In addition, it has been noted that African Americans with epilepsy die from it more often than those with white skin. Although this may be due to a higher infant mortality rate among the Negroid race than among the White population.

Causes of death in epilepsy

The causes of death can be very diverse.

Death during the development of an epileptic seizure can occur as a result of an accident. During a fall, a person can get injured incompatible with life, for example, falling on sharp objects, etc. In case of very frequent attacks of the patient, a protective helmet is put on to avoid head injury. If an attack occurs in water, a person can drown, while drowning is possible not only while swimming in a pond, but also when taking a bath. 

It is especially dangerous for human health if he has several seizures in a row. There is a possibility of cerebral edema. As a possible result – coma, respiratory arrest, heart failure. The death of the patient can occur from the ingestion of vomit into the respiratory tract. A person can simply choke on his saliva. True, such accidents occur more in older people. 

Although rare, a lethal effect in a patient can occur with intolerance to antiepileptic drugs.

In some patients, epilepsy can be caused by severe or rapidly progressing brain pathologies, such as tumors, trauma, cerebrovascular diseases, etc. And it is they, and not the seizures themselves, that can provoke the death of the patient.

Status epilepticus is especially dangerous – these are several large convulsive seizures that follow each other without interruption. As a result, the patient may develop respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, coma, which can be observed against the background of cerebral edema. It is possible that saliva and vomit may enter the respiratory tract during attacks, as a result of which aspiration pneumonia will develop, which can also provoke the death of the patient. Especially often it develops in elderly people.

Suicide can be another cause of death among patients with epilepsy. According to statistics, the risk of suicide is 5 times higher for them, and if temporal lobe epilepsy or complex partial seizures are observed, then 25 times higher than in the general population. Scientists believe that this is due to mental disorders, including depression, which often accompanies epilepsy. Also, often the cause of suicide is:

  • problems in personal life;
  • physical illness;
  • personality traits;
  • severe stress;
  • attempted suicide prior to diagnosis;
  • severe course of epilepsy;
  • frequent attacks;
  • recently diagnosed.

Taking antiepileptic drugs that negatively affect mood and cognitive function, especially phenobarbital, also increase the risk of suicide.

While taking medications that have a positive effect on mental performance, improve mood, reduce the likelihood of suicide.

The death of a patient can occur as a result of an epilepsy attack triggered by the intake of alcoholic beverages or withdrawal syndrome (after stopping their intake after prolonged use in large doses).

Sudden death syndrome is also common in patients diagnosed with epilepsy.

The reason for this is currently unknown, but it is believed to be related to:

  • with attacks of suffocation during an attack;
  • with the negative effects of antiepileptic drugs;
  • with vegetative seizures, which provoke heart damage and the release of endogenous opiates.

The diagnosis of sudden death syndrome in epilepsy (SEDS) is made if:

  • The patient suffered from an active form of epilepsy.
  • The lethal outcome came unexpectedly, death occurred in just a few minutes.
  • The patient died under normal living conditions or under light stress.
  • Death occurred in a state of relative health, it was not associated with an epileptic seizure.
  • The autopsy did not find any other medical reasons for the death of the patient.

But with the development of an epileptic seizure in the near term, it also does not exclude the diagnosis of UHSEP, in the case when the death did not occur directly during the attack of the disease.

To reduce the risk of an unfavorable prognosis in the development of epilepsy, it is necessary to take antiepileptic drugs, refuse to drink alcohol, avoid stressful situations, get enough sleep, refuse to drive a car, work at heights and with dangerous equipment. 

In custody

The most important thing is not to be afraid of the disease! Death in epilepsy is very rare. Before an attack, a person feels a special aura, so it is possible to predict it. So it is worth taking measures in advance to avoid injury during an attack.

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