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Epilepsy Increases Risk of Early Death, Study Finds

Update Date: Jul 22, 2013 02:51 PM EDT

People diagnosed with epilepsy suffer from repeated seizures, also known as convulsions, over time. These seizures can affect brain activity, altering one's attention or behavior. According to the epilepsy foundation, around one in every 26 Americans will suffer from epilepsy at some point in life. Even though epilepsy can be treated to a certain extent, a new study found that epilepsy in conjunction with mental illnesses could lead to an increased rate of premature death.

"This is the largest report to date to look at psychiatric associations in epilepsy and their contribution to premature mortality. Our finding that three quarters of suicide and accident deaths in epilepsy also had a diagnosis of mental illness strongly identifies this as a high-risk population to focus preventative strategies and more intensive treatment," Dr. Seena Fazel, a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and main author of the study, said according to Medical Xpress. "Improving the identification, monitoring and treatment of psychiatric problems in epilepsy patients could make an important contribution to reducing the risk of premature death that we're currently seeing in these patients."

In this new study, researchers from the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institutet reviewed data from a 41-year long Swedish study. From this study, there were 69,995 people diagnosed with epilepsy from Sweden. They were enrolled in the study from 1969 to 2009. The researchers compared the mortality rates of people with epilepsy to 660, 869 healthy people. The sample set of healthy people was matched to the group of epileptic participants by age and sex. The researchers even incorporated healthy siblings to account for the factors of genetic risk and upbringing.

The research team found that nearly nine percent, or 6,115 people with epilepsy had died. This number was extremely high in comparison to the 4,892 deaths, which is less than one percent, reported in the group of healthy people. The researchers concluded that people with epilepsy were 10 times more likely to die before reaching their mid-50s in comparison to people without epilepsy. This high mortality rate seems to be due to the risk of mental illnesses for people with epilepsy.

According to the researchers, 16 percent of the deaths were due to suicides. They found that suicides were four times more likely to occur for people with epilepsy than people who were healthy. On top of that, epilepsy was associated with increased rates of substance abuse and mental illnesses. The researchers also reported that people with epilepsy were six times more likely to die in a non-vehicle accident, such as drowning or drug poisoning than people who were healthy.

"Although it is well -recognized that psychiatric and addiction disorders occur in epilepsy, in high income (Western) countries, epilepsy is often managed by neurologists only. The findings from this study would suggest that clinical epilepsy services should review their liaison with psychiatric and addiction services as a priority," Professor Charles Newton from the Wellcome Trust program at the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, added.

The study was published in The Lancet.

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