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Death Rates Higher for Those With Lasting Epilepsy: Study
Date:12/22/2010

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- People with childhood epilepsy who continue to have seizures into adolescence and beyond face a significantly higher risk of death than people who've never had epilepsy, new research suggests.

In a study that followed 245 children for 40 years following their epilepsy diagnosis, researchers found that 24 percent died during that time period. That's a rate of death that's three times as high as would be expected for people without epilepsy who were of a similar age and sex.

"In those people with childhood-onset epilepsy, those who do not outgrow their seizures have a substantially higher mortality rate over many years," said study senior author Dr. Shlomo Shinnar, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Management Center at the Children's Hospital of Montefiore in New York City. But, he added, the risk to any individual in any given year is still less than 1 percent.

And the good news from the study is that "once you have seizure remission, mortality rates are similar [to people without epilepsy]," noted Shinnar.

The findings are published in the Dec. 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain caused by abnormal signaling messages from nerve cell to nerve cell, according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. Those abnormal signals can cause strange sensations, muscle spasms, seizures and even a loss of consciousness.

The most serious complication that occurs more often in people with epilepsy is sudden unexplained death. However, little is known about why this is so.

The current study included 245 children living in Finland who were diagnosed with epilepsy in 1964. The children were followed prospectively for 40 years, and in most cases, when a death occurred, an autopsy was performed.

The researchers found that 60 (24 percent) of
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