People with epilepsy are ten times more likely to die early, before their mid-fifties, compared with the general population, according to a 41 year study in Sweden published today in the Lancet and part-funded by the Wellcome Trust.
The findings reveal a striking correlation between premature death and mental illness in these patients and people with epilepsy were four times more likely to have received a psychiatric diagnosis in their lifetime compared with the general population.
The figures are considerably higher than previously thought and have important implications for epilepsy management.
Researchers at the University of Oxford and Karolinska Institutet studied 69,995 people with epilepsy born in Sweden between 1954 and 2009 and followed up over 41 years, between 1969 and 2009. They compared mortality and cause of death information from these patients with 660,869 age- and sex-matched people from the general population. The study also looked at the unaffected siblings of those with epilepsy, in order to rule out the influence of background factors such as genetic risk factors and upbringing.
Throughout the course of the study, almost nine per cent (6,155) of people with epilepsy died compared with less than one per cent (4,892) of people from the general population.
The most important cause of death in people with epilepsy that was not clearly related to the underlying disease process was death by external causes, such as accident or suicide, accounting for almost 16 per cent of deaths. Three quarters of these deaths were amongst patients who also had a psychiatric diagnosis.
Although suicide and deaths from accidents were still relatively rare, the odds of a person with epilepsy committing suicide during the study were four times higher than the general population and there was a strong correlation with mental illness and substance abuse.
Dr Seena Fazel, a Wellcome Trust Senior C
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