Underestimation of sudden deaths among patients with seizures and epilepsy

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Objective:To determine the definite and potential frequency of seizures and epilepsy as a cause of death (COD) and how often this goes unrecognized.Methods:Prospective determination of seizures or epilepsy and final COD for individuals aged 18–90 years with out-of-hospital sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs) from the population-based San Francisco POST SCD Study. We compared prospective seizure or epilepsy diagnosis and final COD as adjudicated by a multidisciplinary committee (pathologists, electrophysiologists, and a vascular neurologist) vs retrospective adjudication by 2 epileptologists with expertise in seizure-related mortality.Results:Of 541 SCDs identified during the 37-month study period (mean age 62.8 years, 69% men), 525 (97%) were autopsied; 39/525 (7.4%) had seizures or epilepsy (mean age: 58 years, range: 27–92; 67% men), comprising 17% of 231 nonarrhythmic sudden deaths. The multidisciplinary team identified 15 cases of epilepsy, 6 sudden unexpected deaths in epilepsy (SUDEPs), and no deaths related to acute symptomatic seizures. The epileptologists identified 25 cases of epilepsy and 8 definite SUDEPs, 10 possible SUDEPs, and 5 potential cases of acute symptomatic seizures as a COD.Conclusions:Among the 25 patients identified with epilepsy by the epileptologists, they found definite or possible SUDEP in 72% (18/25) vs 24% (6/25) by the multidisciplinary group (6/15 cases they identified with epilepsy). The epileptologists identified acute symptomatic seizures as a potential COD in 5/14 patients with alcohol-related seizures. Epilepsy is underdiagnosed among decedents. Among patients with seizures and epilepsy who die suddenly, seizures and SUDEP often go unrecognized as a potential or definite COD.

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